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Retro style

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Retro style is a style that is imitative or consciously derivative of lifestyles, trends, or art forms from the historical past, including in music, modes, fashions, or attitudes. It may also be known as "vintage inspired".[citation needed]


The term retro has been in use since the 1960s to describe[1] on the one hand, new artifacts that self-consciously refer to particular modes, motifs, techniques, and materials of the past.[2] But on the other hand, many people use the term to categorize styles that have been created in the past.[3] Retro style refers to new things that display characteristics of the past. Unlike the historicism of the Romantic generations, it is mostly the recent past that retro seeks to recapitulate, focusing on the products, fashions and artistic styles produced since the Industrial Revolution, the successive styles of Modernity.[4] The English word retro derives from the Latin prefix retro, meaning backwards, or in past times.

In France, the word rétro, an abbreviation for rétrospectif,[5] gained cultural currency with reevaluations of Charles de Gaulle and France's role in World War II. The French mode rétro of the 1970s reappraised in film and novels the conduct of French civilians during the Nazi occupation. The term rétro was soon applied to nostalgic French fashions that recalled the same period.[6]

Shortly thereafter retro was introduced into English by the fashion and culture press, where it suggests a rather cynical revival of older but relatively recent fashions.[7] In Simulacra and Simulation, French theorist Jean Baudrillard describes retro as a demythologization of the past, distancing the present from the big ideas that drove the modern age.[8]

Most commonly retro is used to describe objects and attitudes from the recent past that no longer seem modern. It suggests a fundamental shift in the way we relate to the past. Different from more traditional forms of revivalism, "retro" suggests a half ironic, half longing consideration of the recent past; it has been called an "unsentimental nostalgia",[9] recalling modern forms that are no longer current. The concept of nostalgia is linked to retro, but the bittersweet desire for things, persons, and situations of the past has an ironic stance in retro style. Retro shows nostalgia with a dose of cynicism and detachment.[10] The desire to capture something from the past and evoke nostalgia is fuelled by dissatisfaction with the present.[11]

Retro can be applied to several things and artifacts, for example, forms of technological obsolescence (such as manual typewriters, cash registers, and bulky hand-held cellphones) and also the resurrection of old computer games and the equipment on which they are played.[citation needed]

Specific types of retroEdit

Since the 1980s the implications of the word ‘retro’ have been expanding[12] in the application to different media. Several fields have adopted the term retro from the design world. Thus next to design artifacts like objects, graphic design, fashion and interior design, ‘retro’ can be used for: music, film, art, video games, architecture, television and food. Sometimes, it can also suggest an entire outlook on life (describing especially forms of social conservatism like homeschooling or the embrace of traditional gender roles).


Up until the 1960s, interiors were often decorated with antiques. During the 1960s in London, shops started selling pieces of second-hand furniture. These shops were different from the previous antique shops because they sold daily life objects from the recent past. These objects used to be seen as junk: Victorian enamel signs, stuffed bears, old furniture painted with union jacks, bowler hats etc. A new way of producing and consuming the past emerged and a broader range of objects from the recent past was used for new designs.[13]

Before the word ‘retro’ came into use in the 1970s, the practice of adopting old styles for new designs was already common. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, designers borrowed from the past, for example, classicistic style.[14] The difference is that since the 1960s people started to refer to the recent past.

In the 1980s, design history emerged as a discipline and several histories of design were published. The access to these overviews and the ability to experiment with computer design programs has caused an increase of retro designed objects in the last decades.[15]

Interior designEdit

IKEA produced a retro lamp, referring to the 1970s.

Interior design magazines often show retro style as an interior decoration of mixed styles and objects from the past, second hand and new. For example, 1970s patterned wallpapers, combined with second-hand furniture from the 1960s and 1950s. The value of old artifact has increased because the object used to be considered old-fashioned and every day.[16] In this case ‘retro’ indicates a value and that is also partly why today’s retailers produce new objects in an old style.

Graphic design, typography, and packagingEdit

In graphic design too, long before the use of the word ‘retro’, referencing to earlier graphic characteristics was done. William Morris can be seen as an example, for i.a. book design he adopted Medieval production and stylistic models in 1891.[17] Furthermore, in the beginning of the twentieth century, Gothic, Baroque and Rococo motifs were used for new products.[18] In typography classicism has always been an influence and throughout the 20th century, early woodcut printing too. The introduction of the technique of photocomposition to typesetting in the 1960s allowed typographers greater flexibility in the selection and arrangement of type styles and sizes. For example, psychedelic typefaces were developed gaining inspiration from Art Nouveau and other cultures.[19] Historicist styles are also used is in the promotion and packaging of food and household products, referring to childhood memories and domestic nostalgic ideals.[20]

Fashion designEdit

A 1940s retro-style dress with turban, designed in a modern electric blue, modeled by Karlie Kloss at a 2011 Anna Sui show

The terms "retro fashion" and "vintage fashion" are sometimes used interchangeably and therefore can cause confusion as to what is really meant. The term "retro fashion" (also known as "vintage inspired") refers to new clothing, shoes, and accessories that are designed to resemble clothing, shoes, and accessories that are at least 13 years old or older. "Vintage fashion" (or "vintage clothing") refers to the original (old) clothing the new designs are based on. So in simple terms, new clothes that look old are called "retro" and clothes that look old because they are old are called "vintage".

An example of retro fashion is 1970s and 1980s sportswear; soccer jackets, jerseys, and T-shirts with former logos of the soccer associations are very popular; their designs commonly remember the old days by using lines in the sides and combinations of colors characteristic of those times. A specific case is the 1970 FIFA World Cup held in Mexico. Its logo and font type are used in a variety of retro sports garments. Brands such as Adidas, Puma and Nike have their own divisions specialized in retro products. Some soccer, baseball and basketball clubs also have re-edited their former garments to raise their sales. See also Throwback uniform.

In the early 2010s, there was a revival of pastel and neon colors, stereotypically associated with 1980s and early 1990s fashion (with the 1980s pastel revival itself actually being a rebirth of a 1950s trend). Also in the early 2010s, late 1980s style high waisted mom jeans made a comeback with female hipsters. Nowadays, 1990s fashion has made a comeback, many of the fabrics and patterns ubiquitous to the decade (such as crushed velvet and floral) are popular now in the 2010s. Dr. Martens, a shoe brand popular in the 1990s has also made a strong comeback in the early 2010s. 2011–12 was the British company's best selling season of all time.[21]

When an older style of athletic shoe is manufactured again by a shoe company years or decades later it is referred to as a "reissue".

Retro artEdit

A 1950s-era poster in pop-art style, the style on which retro art is based

The style now called "retro art" is a genre of pop art which was developed in the 1940s and 1950s, in response to a need for bold, eye-catching graphics that were easy to reproduce on simple presses available at the time in major centres. Retro advertising art has experienced a resurgence in popularity since its style is distinctive from modern computer-generated styling. Contemporary artist Anne Taintor uses retro advertising art as the centerpiece for her ongoing commentary on the modern woman. Specific styling features include analog machine design, vintage television program etc.[22]

Perhaps the most famous example of a retro pop-art character is the more generalized form of the Ward Cleaver-styled J. R. "Bob" Dobbs-esque icon which has been widely played off, copied, and parodied.

Media and cultureEdit

Film, music, fashion, and televisionEdit

The 1970s brought about a 1950s–early '60s revival with American Graffiti, Grease, and Happy Days. This lasted into the 1980s with the rockabilly revival. The 1950s greaser look greatly influenced the punk subculture.

The 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s witnessed a 1960s revival with Hairspray, Grease 2, Mermaids, Matinee, That Thing You Do!, Shag, a revival of the cartoon series The Jetsons with new episodes and a movie, the power pop of the decade being influenced by 1960s pop rock, the garage rock revival (with bands like The Cynics), and 1960s hits covered by various artists. Examples of such covers are "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by Kim Wilde, "Where Did Our Love Go?" and "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell, "Spirit in the Sky" by Doctor and the Medics, "Harlem Shuffle" by The Rolling Stones, "Dancing in the Street" by David Bowie and Mick Jagger, "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" by Cher, and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by Tight Fit.

The 1990s brought a 1970s revival. The films Dazed and Confused, Detroit Rock City, Casino, The Stoned Age, The Brady Bunch Movie and its sequel (both of which were remakes of the popular early '70s TV show The Brady Bunch), and Boogie Nights (in which the first part of this film took place in the late '70s) were released, along with a revival of 1970s disco and pop led by artists such as the A*Teens, the Spice Girls, and Jamiroquai; Lenny Kravitz's "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" being inspired by Earth, Wind and Fire and Philly soul; a revival of sideburns, bell bottoms, and afro (worn by Kravitz); the debut of the television series That '70s Show; and 1970s hits covered by various artists. Examples of such covers are "I Can See Clearly Now" by Jimmy Cliff, "Baby I Love Your Way" by Big Mountain, "Turn the Beat Around" by Gloria Estefan, "Wild World" by Mr. Big, "O-o-h Child" by Dino, "Wild Night" by John Mellencamp and Meshell Ndegeocello, "Oh Girl" by Paul Young, "Easy" by Faith No More, "Have You Seen Her" by MC Hammer, "Emotion" by the Bee Gees, "Killing Me Softly with His Song" by Fugees, "Love Rollercoaster" by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and "It Only Takes a Minute" by Take That. Samples of 1970s songs were also used in hip-hop songs in the 1990s (and 2000s), most notably in the 1990s hip-hop genre G-funk and in songs such as "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio.

The late 1990s began the 1980s revival, which grew into the 2000s. The 1980s-themed films Grosse Pointe Blank, The Wedding Singer, Boogie Nights (the second part of this film took place in the early '80s), and Romy and Michele's High School Reunion were released in the late 1990s. 1980s-themed films such as Wet Hot American Summer were released in the 2000s. This craze also brought about revivals of The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Speed Racer, and Voltron. The post-punk revival coincided with this, as the genre was originally popular (albeit underground) in the 1980s. There also was That '80s Show and Freaks and Geeks, but both shows were short-lived (despite the latter's critical acclaim). I Love the '80s, a part of a series of decade retrospectives, became the most popular of the series and spawned two sequel series.

The 2010s have seen a revival of both the 1980s and 1990s. The television shows The Goldbergs, The Carrie Diaries, GLOW, Stranger Things, Everything Sucks! and Hindsight debuted. The film Everybody Wants Some was released. A trend for 1980s second wave synthpop is growing along with 1990s-style future house and nu-disco songs by such artists as Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, and Bruno Mars. Numerous 1990s television shows and movies have been revived, along with some films from the 1980s such as Footloose, Ghostbusters, Adventures in Babysitting, Dirty Dancing, and The Smurfs. There was also an I Love the '90s series that was released in the mid-2000s. The Teen Titans Go! episode "40% 40% 20%" has a song titled "The Night Begins to Shine", which is made in the style of the 1980s. 1980s-influenced songs include "Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon, "24K Magic" by Bruno Mars, "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. Also, new jack swing came back in style in early 2018 with "Finesse" by Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B.

The 2010s have also seen a revival of the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s, overlapping somewhat with the 1990s revivals. Sequels to 2000s films, such as Anchorman 2, Finding Dory, and Monsters University have been released ten years after the original films. Early-to-mid 2000s television series, such as Arrested Development, Invader Zim, Hey Arnold, That's So Raven, Ben 10, Prison Break, and Samurai Jack have been, or are being, revived. Some believe this a case of the "nostalgia cycle" becoming shorter, as the generation that grew up with this media in their childhoods was in their early-to-mid 20s by 2012.[23]

By the late 2010s, late 2000s-early 2010s nostalgia has already appeared to an extent, with the resurgence of the popular game Minecraft.[24]


Retrogaming is a pastime which is becoming increasingly popular where individuals play video games on vintage computers or vintage game consoles. What constitutes a vintage or retro machine is sometimes open to debate, but typically, most retro gamers are interested in Commodore 64, Amiga 500, Atari 2600, NES, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, SNES, and classic Game Boy games and consoles. Emulation often plays a part in retrogaming if the original hardware is unavailable.

Retro erotica (photography)Edit

Retro erotica is usually photography in the style of pinups or pornography typically dating from the 1970s or earlier. It ranges from hardcore to non-nude pinup style photography, often featuring lingerie such as girdles, bullet bras and garter belts and hosiery with hairstyles, makeup, and props fashioned after those periods. Some aficionados distinguish retro (modern photography in an older style) from vintage (actual period photos or film) while others conflate the two as either retro or vintage. There are a number of websites dedicated to both types.


A Qantas Boeing 737-800 (VH-XZP) retrojet seen at Sydney Airport

A handful of airlines have chosen to paint a historical livery on a single selected aircraft in their modern fleet, typically as a marketing device or to commemorate an anniversary.[25][26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Woodham 2004
  2. ^ Dermody, Breathnach 2009, p. 7
  3. ^ Baker 2012, p. 622
  4. ^ Guffey 2006, p. 25
  5. ^ "French definition of ''rétro''". 1978-09-11. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  6. ^ Walker, John. (1992) "Retro". Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed.
  7. ^ Elizabeth E. Guffey, Retro: The Culture of Revival, pp. 9–22
  8. ^ Baudrillard. p. 43
  9. ^ E. Guffey 2006
  10. ^ Guffey 2006, p. 20
  11. ^ Dermody, Breathnach 2009, p. 15
  12. ^ Guffey 2006, p. 16
  13. ^ Baker 2012, p. 624
  14. ^ Dermody, Breathnach 2009, p. 7
  15. ^ Dermody and Breathnach 2009, p. 11
  16. ^ Baker 2012, p. 622
  17. ^ Dermody, Breathnach 2009, pp. 7–8
  18. ^ Heller and Lasky, 1993
  19. ^ Dermody, Breathnach 2009, pp. 8-10
  20. ^ Dermody, Breathnach 2009, p. 16
  21. ^ Lauren Cochrane. "Dr Martens enjoy comeback with best-selling season ever | Fashion". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
  22. ^ "Bookulating Suggest-O-Mometer". Archived from the original on 2008-12-01. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Flynn, David (17 November 2014). "Qantas reveals 'flying kangaroo' livery on Boeing 737". Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  26. ^ Mutzabaugh, Ben (18 April 2014). "Happy 85th: LOT adds 'RetroJET' livery to Embraer E175". USA Today. Retrieved 31 May 2015.


External linksEdit