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Vintage vs Retro vs Antique – What is the Difference?

There is always confusion among buyers and sellers when it comes to the classification of different items. This confusion comes about as a result of not understanding the lingo commonly used to refer to certain categories of goods.

Learning this language can help you transact with confidence. And this where terms such as vintage, retro, and antique come into play.

Many factors determine the value of an item. One of these factors is age or the time when a particular item was manufactured.

That is why names like “vintage, “retro” and “antique” come in to make any old stuff look and sound fancy to the buyer.

When used appropriately, such terms can easily help describe an item based on its history and context.

So by understanding each terminology, it means that you are one step ahead of your competitors in the market.

Below is a detailed explanation of each term and where you can apply it.


The term vintage is used to describe an item or stuff that is less than 100 years old and older than 20 years. To make it clear for you, a vintage item is one that is widely used and recognized to be from a particular period.

When it comes to “true vintage”, the situation is slightly different. People use this term to refer to something that is at least 50 years old, especially wine. No wonder the name vintage is an altered version of the French word ‘vendange’ which means “the type of grapes harvested during a specific season”.

A vintage item should clearly relate to the era it was created. This means that anything not more than 20 years old should not be described as vintage. Such items should never be referred to as vintage in any way.

Sometimes it is difficult to determine exactly the time when a particular piece of item was made. Such items are classified as borderline antique but different people describe them as vintage just to make everything easy.

What is more, some items may be referred to as vintage when in real sense are retro. So this creates a lot of confusion when handling items from different eras. For you to overcome this one-sided overlap of two different items, you need to understand what retro means and how you can use it.


Different sources cite retro as a style that’s unconsciously imitative or derivative of modes, trends, attitudes or fashions of the current or recent past. Retro generally refers to a vintage of not more than 15 or 20 years.

The term “retro” originates from the Latin word retro which is a prefix that means “in the past times” or “backward”.

You may relate this terminology to the word retrograde which implies a movement going back to the past rather than progressing toward the future. You can also compare the same word with the retrospective, a term which refers to a critical or nostalgic eye looking back in the past.

In this context, retro items should not be necessarily old. But they can be new items that look more stylish compared to the time or item they’re trying to imitate (replicate).

For instance, clothing made in the 1980s or 1990s can be referred to as retro. In simple terms, retro describes an outdated fashion or style that has suddenly become fashionable again.

The best way you can think of the difference between vintage and retro is that the latter refers to the real (actual) reconstruction while the former describes the appearance. However, you may describe vintage items as retro and not vice versa.

Also, vintage refers to images of antique lace, dresses, florals, and pearls. Retro, on the other hand, implies geometrical shapes and iconic design-led items. This simple explanation draws a line between these two widely used terms in the market today.


For an item to be regarded as antique, it should be 100 years old. As a matter of fact, the age of an item has to be proven for it to be given this title. If the item cannot be dated then it should not be considered antique.

The term “antique” comes from a Latin word, antiquus, meaning “old” or “ancient”. When referring to the items, this terminology should denote old collectible items.

Such items are usually collected or desired because of their age, rarity, beauty, utility, condition, unique features and personal emotional connection. Antiques are objects that represent a past era or a certain period in history.

It is extremely rare to come across antique pieces. This is attributed to the fact that some of these pieces may have been lost or damaged within a given timeframe.

In most cases, these items are referred to as relics, unstylish or ancient objects. They could be pieces of furniture, works of art or decorative objects made in the past.

Most antique items like the China patterns were made over a long period of time. A good example is the famous Christmas Tree pattern found on china plates.

This item has been in existence for quite long and its first batch of plates will soon acquire the “antique” status. Even though the same pattern is still in use today, newer plates bearing this pattern can not be considered antique by definition.

Final Thought

At least, you can tell the differences among them without any confusion. Most people confuse these terms and where they are used. Vintage is mainly applicable in items that are considered too old to be used but not older than 100 years.

When it comes to retro, this name refers to outdated or out of style items that are not more than 20 years old. A retro item does not have to be old to bear this title. Instead, it can be brand new with features replicating a recent past.

Finally, the term antique describes relics or pieces that are at least a century old. These items must be dated and proven to be of the right age for them to take up this title. By now these terms must be very clear to you.

avatar I’m Martin Lead, the chief editor at Retro Squid. I’m an old school guy, with beard and mustache and I love retro, because retro never gets old. I help retro fans to find inspiration and products for their room or home. If you have any question about retro, or need help, please leave a comment below.

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