Monday, March 2, 2015

Retro, Vintage, or Antique - A Guide for Buyers and Sellers

Use the right word, not its second cousin. - Mark Twain

by Catherine, FriskyScissors on Etsy

The words antique, vintage, and retro are bandied about a lot, but there is a lot of inconsistency about how they are applied. In casual speech, it’s perhaps not so important to be precise with these terms, but when it comes to business, right vocabulary and correct usage are vital. What do these terms actually mean? 


This word is often mistakenly used to describe vintage items. In fact, “retro” is a prefix from Latin

meaning “backward” and as a stand-alone word correctly refers to something that is “imitative of a style, fashion, or design from the recent past” (Oxford American Dictionary). A new dress made in the style of the 1960s would accurately be called a retro 60s dress. A dress that was actually made in the 1960s would not. Retro does not mean vintage.


This word originally referred to the year in which a wine was produced. In modern times, it’s come to be used more broadly to refer to items that are older, but not yet antique. Etsy has given a precise definition to this term by specifying that only items that are at least 20 years old may described as vintage. This has been adopted by other vintage marketplaces as well. By this generous standard, we are all surrounded by vintage items every day.


In a broad sense, this word refers to an item that has a high value due to its considerable age. However, in the U.S., and in many other countries, customs laws specifically define antique as being at least 100 years old. Since this is the legal definition, it’s important that sellers use this term accurately, especially when selling to other countries. Incorrect usage on customs forms may cause problems for buyer or seller. In the real-world marketplace, not all antique items have high values.


                             Context is Everything

Broader and varied definitions of all three terms can be found in different dictionaries, but as industry lingo their meanings are necessarily specific. The above definitions are the commonly agreed-upon meanings as used in the vintage and antique communities.

In a Nutshell

Retro is something current which revives a style of the recent past.
Vintage is 20 to 99 years old.
Antique is 100 years old or older.




Antique                                Vintage


  1. Nice and concise (hey, that rhymes!)...thank you (cute patterns, too).

  2. When I was young there was no retro or vintage. To be antique it only had to be 50 years old. This was in the 50's. Things have changed.

    1. Wow, that is fascinating! Write an article about this, TerriSue! :)

  3. Thanks for the definitions. I've been using retro incorrectly in my vintage shop and need to fix that!

  4. Thanks for the definitions. I've been using retro incorrectly in my vintage shop and need to fix that!

  5. Perfect explanation! thanks Catherine! :)

  6. Nice Article, Thanks for Posting it!

  7. Great article! I've been using Retro wrong, too.

  8. Thanks! I love the clarification of terms.

  9. I'm guilty of using Retro the wrong way too I'm afraid. Thanks for the information, it is really helpful!

  10. So nice to have it explained in such a concise way!

  11. Thank you for the clarification, these are much needed guidelines.

  12. Excellent information, Catherine.
    Thanks for this concise tutorial.

  13. Wonderful informative article! Thanks Catherine for taking the time to write the article and share this valuable information!

  14. Very helpful information. Thank you for the clear delineation between the terms.

  15. This was very informative. Thank you for posting.