Antique, Retro, or Vintage? A Question for the Ages

Imagine you are getting ready for a costume party where you are supposed to wear something retro. You go through your clothing and find a plastic raincoat covered in peace signs, a Gatsby-style tweed flat cap, and a gold pin worn at your great grandparents’ wedding in 1915. You find yourself wondering which are retro, vintage, and antique.


Since people often use the three words interchangeably, it’s understandable that you are questioning which to wear. For two of the three examples, there is no way to decide what to wear without more information. Whether you are talking about clothes, cars, toys, or other collectibles, learning the differences can be very helpful the next time you are getting ready for a costume party or shopping for a unique gift!




Of the three words, this definition is the easiest to remember because an antique is at least 100 years old. It is unlikely that you will find antique clothing in your closet, or anywhere but in a museum or another historical display. Given your three choices, the pin is definitely an antique because it was worn at your great grandparents’ wedding more than 100 years ago. The raincoat is likely not an antique since plastic wasn’t used widely until the 1960s. So, you can put the pin back in a safe place and continue getting ready for your party.




Something made recently but designed to look like it is from the past is retro. These items could be clothing, games, a rotary phone, or anything produced to evoke nostalgia or bring back an older trend. Typically, retro items are designed after something popular 20 years earlier, but it could be from further in the past. Both the raincoat and the cap could be retro, but you need more details on when they were made.




A vintage was made more than twenty years ago but after 1920. So, in 2020, vintage items would be anything made between 1920 and 2000. Like retro and antique, vintage is not only used to describe clothing. In getting ready for your theme party, it would be difficult to know if you should wear the coat or the hat without more information.


It would be difficult, but not impossible. In the case of the cap, if it were an original tweed cap from the 1920s, it would be about 100 years old, an antique. As an antique, the cloth would be very fragile, so it is more likely that it is retro – made recently to look like something trendy during an earlier time. The plastic raincoat covered in peace signs could also be retro, but if it were made in the 1960s, it would be vintage.


You remember that you saw a picture of one of your parents in their teens, wearing the raincoat, so you put it back in the closet and don your retro tweed flat cap for the party. As you head out, you wonder if they had to go through the same analysis of their closets to decide if their options were retro, vintage, or antique.  But you are more excited about seeing what other retro clothing your friends have found to wear for the party!