Defining Antique, Vintage and Retro

Antique Victorian Loveseat via Scenic Mesa.

What exactly do the terms antique, vintage and retro mean and what, pray tell, is the difference? Hmmm? This has been an on-going question in my mind and may be one for you as well when considering your decor choices. Here’s the nitty-gritty on these words of “old”….

Antique – as defined by Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary – A relic or object of ancient times or of and earlier period than the present; a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs and laws at least 100 years ago.

So, basically antique means something old… like, really old. It carries all the dust, must and mold from its ancient days. It probably shows signs of wear and tear such as chips, scratches, gashes, paint-overs, and if it’s an electrical item it more than likely won’t run or light up. (Re-wiring officially needed!).

The word Antique has basically been clear to me, no surprises there, but vintage and retro get me confused. Just what is the difference?

Vintage – as defined by same dictionary as above – of or relating to a vintage (which applies to wine); of old, recognized and enduring interest, importance, or quality; classic; a period of origin or manufacture.

So if something is vintage it is old and “used” but not from your great-grandfather’s time. Vintage items and furniture may have imperfections also. Mid-century modern in style is considered vintage and objects might be associated with some people’s “younger days”, with pop culture, junk food, and fashion trends. Vintage, from what I’ve found, applies to a period of time such as the 50s, 60s, 70s etc.

Here we have sample of vintage industrial furniture via Style

Now, for Retro…

Retro – definition – a prefix mainly meaning backward; back; situated behind.

According to Age Defining, the article I used as a source from Apartment Therapy, retro can also be defined as “fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned.”

In short, retro is applied to something out of style. Items in this category are fashions of the past which bring a nostalgic feel when viewed but are not fashionable now. I realize that I may have applied the word “retro” to furniture and objects that may be considered “vintage” since they were presently in style to use in home decor. Retro also seems to apply to a person who may have out-dated decor or may dress in an old style, not in a fashionable sense, but simply because they haven’t updated their wardrobe since 1975! 🙂 Uh, I know someone like this…

In any case, I’ve found that mostly retro and vintage are interchangeable when used online, and I guess that doesn’t really hurt a thing. Mainly I get the idea that vintage items are in style, are not too, too old, and relate to a period of time in the past century. Retro seems to mean out of style and old, but nice to look at just the same.

If you have any thoughts on retro or vintage definitions, let me know.


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