Vintage fashion is so trendy right now; unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion around retro, vintage, and antique clothing.
I’ve been running my vintage fashion store in central London for the last two years.
From every ten people entering my store, nine ask: “what does vintage mean in fashion?”
They also want to know what is considered vintage or, how old is vintage.
In this article, I’ll define vintage fashion and compare it with two other terms popular right now: retro and antique.
Then, at the end of the article, I’ll share 8 decade-defining vintage styles, from the 20s’ to the 90s’.
Without further ado, what does vintage mean in fashion?
Vintage Fashion Definition:
Vintage is a term used (in fashion) to describe old clothing made between 20 and 100 years ago. However, for a piece of apparel to qualify as vintage, it must comprise stylistic elements relevant to the trends of those times. Items older than 100 years are described as antique.
However, the terms ‘vintage’, ‘retro’ and ‘antique’ are often used interchangeably in fashion.
The age of the item is a crucial factor in differentiating between the terms.
Also, the age of the item is used to determine the price, together with the item’s condition and its rarity.
Therefore, using terms such as vintage clothing, retro and antique give the buyers clues to when items were made.
The Meaning Of Vintage Fashion
Speaking to Vogue in 2017, Anna Wintour explained that the term ‘vintage fashion’ refers to pieces made between the last 20 to 99 years.
“The ‘vintage’ tag can be appended to pieces of at least 20 years old. However, only if these articles showcase characteristics associated with that era” – Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief.
Wintour said that the term vintage clothing often implies collectability in the case of designer pieces.
For example, a pair of sunglasses made in 1985 that looks no different from those made in 2020 is technically vintage.
However, you can’t refer to these glasses as “80s vintage” if the style does not reflect any of that era’s defining design elements.
Exploring the primary definition of ‘vintage’ can shed more light on the subject.
The Meaning Of Antique Fashion
An item of clothing, jewelry, furniture, or artwork at least 100 years old is described as an ‘antique’.
However, the age of any piece marketed as an antique must be verifiable.
For example, if you’re selling an item as antique but cannot verify its age, it is safer to refer to it as ‘vintage’.
The Meaning Of Retro Fashion
The term ‘retro’ describes clothing, shoes, and accessories inspired by (copies of) older designs but made in the last 20 years.
Retro fashion is usually more affordable than vintage clothing or antique couture and tends to be more functional too.
Contemporary retro garments do not have to be exact copies of designs from past eras.
It is enough to be made in the style of the inspired item.
In this light, a dress inspired by a garment worn by a flapper in the 1920s but made only five years ago is considered retro.
On the other hand, a flapper’s original dress, made in the 1920s, can be called vintage.
Furthermore, a 19th-century diamond brooch that belonged to your great-great-grandmother can be considered an antique.
Retro Paves The Way For Vintage
Not a season goes by without at least a designer launching a collection featuring retro garments or accessories targeting vintage lovers.
One of the most recent – and striking – examples of contemporary fashion lines, inspired by vintage looks was Alessandro Michele’s Gucci men’s collection for Fall/Winter 2020-2021
When the designer was asked “why the retro immersion?”, he replied:
“The embodiment of retro and vintage stylistic elements was intentional, aiming to raise interest by creating collectability value. Moreover, given the indirect association to second hand clothes, vintage clothing is seen as a sustainable form of consumption, added the designer.
Decade-Defining Vintage Styles
Every decade sees an array of styles; however, only a few become famous and influential enough to become part of the look that defines that era.
Here are a few examples of popular vintage fashion styles, from the 1920s to the 1990s.