Is There a Difference in the Terms Retro, Vintage, and Antique?

Retro, vintage, or antique, which is it?
Is There a Difference in the Terms Retro, Vintage, and Antique?

Last update: 05 November, 2020

Would you like to learn the difference between retro, vintage, and antique? Read on and take note because, despite people using these words as synonyms, they really aren’t.

We constantly use the terms retro, vintage, and antique. But, have you stopped to think if you’re really using them correctly? You probably feel confused like the majority of people. That’s why you need to keep reading to solve the mystery then you’ll completely understand these words in interior design terms.

Even though these three words refer to objects whose aesthetic value is from the past, they don’t have the same meaning. In fact, the correct terminology is related to the year of manufacture.

The difference between retro, vintage, and antique

You may have said that you love vintage clothing, that the furniture you’ve bought from your friend is a little retro, or in you can find antiques in markets, right? However, certain details differentiate the three terms. Even though they may seem synonymous, they really aren’t.

Did you know that the date of manufacture of the objects is what makes the difference in the terms retro, vintage, and antique? Read on and you’ll learn about all of the differences.

What are antiques?

A collection of old items

To be an antique, a piece of furniture, a work of art, or a decorative object, there must be between 50 and 100 years since it’s fabrication.  However, this can be a bit subjective.

In addition to its age, there are other factors. For example, if it’s a well-preserved work of art it’s an antique. Also, if it’s a unique piece of furniture, and if there are few examples like it you have an antique.

All in all, it means something if the object in question is a piece that is sought after by a collector of antiques. This is also a characteristic of an antique.

In another category, technology items can be true relics if they are truly from the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s. So as you can see, it’s all relative.

What is vintage?

A boom box

For something to be vintage, it must have two basic characteristics. On one hand, it should have been made, at least 20 years ago. On the other, it needs to be representative of its era. With this, it’s clear that not just anything is vintage. So you may have realized that you’ve been using the term incorrectly for years.

Remember that for an object to be vintage, it’s not enough that it seems to be from the past, it has to be made in the past. As an example, think about that trunk that you got from your grandmother’s house, or about furniture characteristic of the ’50s.

What is retro? Is it the same as vintage and antique?

Several refrigerators in various bright colors. Are they retro, vintage, antique?

The next term is retro and you’ll see that this is much easier to distinguish. It refers to those decorative objects or furniture that have been manufactured recently and imitate the style or trends of the past.

When it comes to appearance, retro as well as vintage goes back to another time, but only vintage pieces are original to their era. As far as retro goes, this refers to an article that’s inspired by the style of design in the past at the time of manufacture.

To understand this, appliances by Smeg that take you back 50 years are retro.  They are very much in style. Do you know which ones they are?

Scandinavian furniture is another example that you’ll find at IKEA. Many pieces are made of wood with straight and simple lines. They’re very practical and look a lot like the mid-century style, but really aren’t.

So, you’re now clearer and you’ll be able to differentiate well what each term means. From now on, when you see a piece of old furniture you’ll know if it’s very valuable by its history, the quality of its materials, and because there are probably only a few that exist.

When it comes to retro or vintage, the question remains clear. You’ll know if it’s an original piece or just decorative, merely an inspiration from the past. And remember, the same rule applies to clothing and other objects.