What Is the Difference between Vintage and Retro Clothing?

Erin J. Hill

Vintage and retro clothing are often confused, but vintage refers to items that were made between 20 and 100 years ago, while retro clothing refers to items created to look as though they are from another period. Both are commonly found in many vintage clothing stores or online. There are unique benefits to owning both types, so choosing between the two usually is at the discretion of each consumer.

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

Both vintage and retro clothing allow people to wear fashions that were popular during various decades of the past. Vintage items are authentic, meaning that they actually come from another period. Retro clothing also allows for the benefits of wearing clothes from another era, but they are made using modern fabrics and they may have a modern "spin" on them which combines elements of vintage and current fashions. When choosing between vintage and retro clothing, there are various factors consumers should consider.

Tie dye was very popular in the 1960s and '70s.
Tie dye was very popular in the 1960s and '70s.

There are several benefits to buying authentic vintage items. They are often made from more durable fabrics, and they have more character than modern items. It is also hard to recreate certain aspects of very old items, so a truly authentic look is often only attainable through finding real vintage clothing. Vintage pieces can also be inexpensive for those who know what they are looking for, since many vintage items wind up in thrift shops.

Downsides to buying true vintage clothing include the fact that many items will be faded, stained, or otherwise damaged. It can also be hard to find specific items when digging through thrift store racks, and buying from a vintage boutique or specialty retailer can be expensive. Sizes are also different in vintage clothing, so shoppers will likely need to know their exact measurements when shopping online. When buying vintage, it is often best to buy from a local retailer so items can be tried on prior to purchase.

There are additional factors to consider when choosing between vintage and retro clothing. Retro items may be more expensive than thrift store prices, but they are often less expensive than vintage items found in pricier boutiques. They can have a unique look to them when modern and vintage elements are combined. Additionally, some retailers provide custom made retro clothing for consumers so the appearance, size, and fabrics can be tailored to each person's needs.

Many retailers sell both vintage and retro clothing in the same location. This allows consumers to have even more options when looking for a unique item. Many times these shops also offer clothing design and creation.

Many pieces of vintage clothing can be found at thrift shops.
Many pieces of vintage clothing can be found at thrift shops.

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Discussion Comments


Fashions always come back around. I've noticed that styles tend to come back into popularity after about thirty years, so what was vintage becomes retro.

The items sold in stores look a lot like the real thing from decades ago, but they have been slightly redesigned. There is no mistaking the fact that they point toward an older era, but they have been updated to appeal to the fashionable.

These garments are probably not marketed as retro, but that is what they are. Some kids may not even know that they are buying clothes like their parents used to wear!


I buy a lot of used clothing, simply because it is cheap. Though not everything I buy is vintage, I do find these old, authentic items occasionally in thrift stores, and if they strike me as cool, I will buy them.

I have bought some vintage dresses from the fifties before. They just looked like something your typical housewife would wear, and I found their charm irresistible.

One thing that I have noticed about vintage dresses from this era is that the waistlines were very narrow. The dresses that I bought were several sizes larger than the size I wear in modern clothing.


@feasting – I have seen a lot of retro items for sale as costumes. Around Halloween, you can find so many sites selling retro disco clothing or hippie bellbottoms.

Most of the time, these items are sold as a set, so instead of just buying bellbottoms, you would also be buying a peasant top and a wig of long, straight hair.

I'm sure there are also places where you could get each item individually. I think that Halloween is the easiest time of year to find retro clothes, though.


This is very interesting! I never knew there was a difference between vintage and retro. Now, I will know exactly what I am buying when it is labeled one or the other.

I have seen a lot of stuff labeled “vintage” in thrift shops. About the only place I have seen “retro” stuff is online. I suppose that the authentic items are the ones usually sold in stores as antiques, and the retro stuff is more of a novelty.

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