What is Retro Fashion?

Susan Grindstaff

Retro fashion is a style of dressing that derived from vintage fashion. Though retro is more commonly associated with the “mod” fashions of the 1960s, it can apply to virtually any era, beginning with the 1940s. Fashion pre-dating the 1940s is usually referred to as historic clothing. Historically speaking, various aspects of fashion from different eras frequently come back into vogue, but the retro movement attempts to capture an entire look, rather than an individual fashion component.

Retro fashion includes tight fitting jeans and leather motorcycle jackets.
Retro fashion includes tight fitting jeans and leather motorcycle jackets.

During the early 1960s, the music world experienced what came to be called the British Invasion. Along with music that took the world by storm, this era also ushered in a new type of fashion that came to be known as mod. Women wore mini skirts and patent leather boots, while men sported close fitting turtlenecks and blazers. Pants were often made using fabrics with bold stripes and heavy leather belts. It was during this period that bell bottomed pants were also introduced, though they were not are flared as the ones that would later be associated with “hippie” fashions.

Thrift shops might offer retro fashion clothing.
Thrift shops might offer retro fashion clothing.

The hippie movement was a counter culture that originated in the late 1960s in protest to the Vietnam War, and is probably the most enduring type of retro fashion. Members of the movement adopted a type of dress that combined prairie fashion with elements of Eastern Indian clothing. They often wore loose fitting embroidered shirts made of soft cotton. The shirts were usually worn with bell bottomed jeans or full prairie skirts. Fringed suede vests and jackets, along with wide floppy hats were also fashionable.

Another type of retro fashion is called “rockabilly.” This fashion is derived from clothing worn during the late 1950s, when rock and roll was the latest music sensation. Men typically wore blue jeans with tight fitting legs. During this time, leather motorcycle jackets also came into vogue, likely influenced by the movie actor James Dean. Women wore very full skirts called “circle” skirts, along with form fitting sweaters and ankle socks.

Wearing retro fashion is a very popular trend, and finding authentic vintage clothing is often difficult. Sometimes these fashion pieces can be found at secondhand thrift shops or estate sales, but more often, authentic vintage clothing is usually offered through more expensive specialty shops. Depending on the overall condition of the garment, these fashion pieces can sometimes be very expensive. Some people find it less costly to make the fashions themselves or to hire a tailor to reproduce them.

Boho skirts are typically long and flowing, hearkening back to the hippie era of the 1960s.
Boho skirts are typically long and flowing, hearkening back to the hippie era of the 1960s.

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Discussion Comments


Can anyone recommend some good clothing ideas that would fall into the category of indie or vintage fashion trends?

My friends are going to a concert in a few weeks and I really want to find something that looks like it it came out of the 70s and will compliment a slightly larger figure. I know there are all sorts of trendy clothes from that era but I want to stay away from anything that doesn't work with a pear shape figure. So I think I'll avoid any of those heavy furred collar jackets that were so popular back then. I just can't see it working for me.


@manykitties2 - If you are looking to pick up some real retro fashion trends your best bet is to go shopping at one of your local consignment shops or second hand stores. You would be surprised at the kinds of unique treasures you can find if you dig around a little.

What I do is search online for retro fashion pictures and then load the images onto my smartphone. When I am browsing the stores I like I use the pictures for guidance and sometimes I can come up with an entire outfit for under $20. If you are lucky you might even find some gorgeous vintage shoes to complete your look.


Where is the best place to find real retro style fashion?

I have been looking at some of the retro and vintage fashion stores in my city and they all seem to be new clothes that are just done in an older style. I really want to get my hands on some of the original fashions from the 1950s and 1960s.

There are so many clothing stores, but I find the quality of a lot of the stuff just isn't that good, unless I pay a small fortune for designer retro fashions. It seems strange to me that things made to look old are so expensive.

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