What is the difference between vintage, antique & retro?

Yikes, it’s been weeks since I babbled to you guys. It’s time for an over due chat!

My draft box is full of half-written, part-illustrated posts so while I wait for a sunny day (when I am not chained to my desk for my day job) to photograph my recently thrifted exhibits, I thought I’d tackle a linguistic conundrum. Or more accurately, a matter of definition which begs the question…..

What is the difference between vintage, antique & retro? 

Let’s start with antiques.


Antique. Noun. Any piece of furniture or decorative object made in a former period. It can often be valuable because of it’s beauty or rarity.

Boffin definitions aside, just about any object can become an antique if it survives long enough.  I like to think of an antique as a thing which shows some degree of craftsmanship or a certain attention to design such as a bureau or an early motor car.  Clothing can be antique too. Where it gets tricky is the blurry line between old (and sometimes a little knackered) and antique.

After doing a bit of research it’s clear that there isn’t a standard rule but the general consensus appears to be that anything which is older than 100 years is considered to be an antique. This means that anything which was made before 1912 ticks the antique box.

What kind of clothes did people wear in 1912?

1912 Ladies Day at Ascot

La Mode, the April 1912 issue in honor of the Titanic.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t found any antique clothes in charity shops recently. Antique clothes are usually found in galleries and museums. I love that the V&A in London regularly exhibits fabulous antique clothes.


This is where the line gets very blurry.

Some people find the regular misuse of the word vintage quite difficult to stomach. I love that a word which evokes the smell of old leather boots, musty wine cellars and all manner of preloved paraphernalia has been re-crafted to define such a phenomena.

Technically, a vintage is the year or place in which a wine is bottled. Wine, usually of high quality, is identified as a year and vineyard or district of origin.

Boozing aside, vintage now defines a style which appears to never go out of fashion. The question is, how old does something have to be to be vintage? Again, there isn’t a standard rule but anything from the 1920’s onwards works in my mind so yes, that includes the 1980’s!

I’ve been buying patterns from the 70’s and 80’s such as the below and plan to start making them when I get some time. (Which will be never.)

Vintage has been a catalyst for a whole generation of small business traders pedaling everything from the curiosity to the sublime. Vintage style is so fashionable that labels now design a significant amount of their lines with a vintage twist. I can remember several occasions (a long time ago I promise) when I’d buy a blouse or top from a vintage stall in Camden market only to find it was still on sale in H&M.

Beware the vintage tax which is now levied on vintage clothes. That’s why charity shops rather than vintage fairs are perfect for the thrill of taking home a genuine piece of second hand frock at an affordable and fair price. And it’s in the name of a good cause.

Knitting bold, bright patterns was big in the 80’s. I’m loving the below. I want to like that it’s teamed with tartan (which I like equally) but it doesn’t work for me. The jumper however gets a massive tick.

Pic taken from Rachel Hind Designs.


Retro is a bit like Plasticine. It can be molded to fit anything which doesn’t fit into the era in which it’s being worn, used or featured.

Retro. Noun. A fashion reminiscent of the past. 

Take retro hair which is big news at the moment. In the 1940s and 1950s, Veronica Lake, Marlene Dietrich and Grace Kelly made large, well-defined curls and a deep-set side parting the style of a generation. It looks just as fabulous now. The only difference is that it’s defined as retro.

I love retro furniture too. I’ve got lots which I’ll be featuring as soon as we have moved and it’s out of storage. Retro furniture is used to describe a piece which isn’t antique but could be either new with a vintage or antique twist or a 1970’s chest of drawers such as the below.

So, are you clear which is which and what is what?

Check out some of my vintage and retro finds from charity shops here:  https://charitychic.wordpress.com/category/vintage-retro-style/