Retro style

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"Retro" redirects here. For other uses, see Retro (disambiguation).

Retro style is style that is consciously derivative or imitative of trends, modes, fashions, or attitudes of the recent past. It generally implies a vintage of at least fifteen or twenty years. For example, clothing from the 1980s or 1990s could be retro.

The word "retro" derives from the Latin prefix retro, meaning "backwards, or in past times" – particularly as seen in the words retrograde, implying a movement toward the past instead of a progress toward the future, and retrospective, referring to a nostalgic (or critical) eye toward the past.

In the postwar period, it increased in usage with the appearance of the word retrorocket (short for "retrograde rocket", a rocket generating thrust in a direction opposite to that of a spacecraft's orbital motion) used by the American space program in the 1960s. In France, the word rétro, an abbreviation for rétrospectif [1] 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.[2]

Shortly thereafter it was introduced into English by the fashion and culture press, where it suggests a rather cynical revival of older but relatively recent fashions.[3] 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.[4]

Specific types of retro[edit]

Retro Is most often used as adjective, and often simply means “old fashioned” or old (functioning very much like the terms “timeless” or “classic”). It has also been associated with modernism in the immediate post war years, encompassing an aesthetic that ranges from tail fins on Cadillacs to ranch houses. Sometimes, it can also suggest an entire outlook on life (describing especially forms of social conservatism like home schooling or the embrace of traditional gender roles). “Retro” can also be applied to forms of technological obsolescence (including, for instance, manual typewriters, cash registers, bulky hand-held cellphones, etc.) and also the resurrection of old computer games and the equipment on which they are played. But 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,”[by whom?] recalling “modern” forms that are no longer current.

Retro art[edit]

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.[5]

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.


Main article: Retrogaming

Retrogaming is a pastime which is becoming increasingly popular where individuals play video games on vintage computers or vintage game consoles; although what constitutes a vintage or retro machine is open to debate. Typically most retro gamers are interested in Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Mega Drive, Dreamcast, Super Nintendo, and classic Game Boy games and consoles. Emulation often plays a part in retrogaming if the original hardware is unavailable.

Retro fashion[edit]

A 1940s retro-style dress with turban, designed in a modern electric blue, modeled by Karlie Kloss at a 2011 Anna Sui show.
A modern male retro-style designed in a modern red chino and Big 1950s Glasses, modeled for a 2012 launched website.

Retro fashion dates from c. 1940-1990. Retro fashion is a clothing style which consists in wearing clothes commonly used in the past. This way of clothing often includes garments and accessories that are characteristic of such times, and many people use them in an exaggerated way and in combination with current clothing. Examples are leather handbags from the 1950s, "bell-bottom jeans", Poodle skirts, big sunglasses, fedoras, funky jackets (commonly Adidas Classics) and shoes, small neckties, chiffon scarves, sport equipment, skinny jeans[citation needed] etc. Makeup may also play a part in feminine retro fashions, with focal points being heavily-lined eyes and bright red lipstick; hairstyles such as pompadours, ponytails, and ducktails may be adopted, as well as styles that model film stars of the 1940s and 1950s.

Retro erotica[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 web sites dedicated to both types.

Retro sport[edit]

A specific and clear example of this trend is the way in which the sport garments from the 1970s and 1980s are used nowadays. 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 is used in a variety of retro sport 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.


The 1970s brought about a 1950s 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 moved on to a 1960s revival with power pop being influenced by sixties pop rock. Various artists covered 1960s pop and R&B hits. Most notable is "You Keep Me Hangin' On" being covered by Kim Wilde and "Where Did Our Love Go?" being covered by Soft Cell.

The 1990s brought a brief 1970s revival with That '70s Show and a revival of disco music and 1970s pop led by The ABBA Generation by the A*Teens. A series known as I Love the '70s also debuted.

The 2000s began the 1980s revival. This craze has brought about revivals of The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Speed Racer, The Smurfs, and Voltron. The post-punk revival coincides with this, as the genre was originally popular (albeit underground) in the 1980s. (Speed Racer had, however, been first revived into the 1990s as Speed Racer X and Voltron as Voltron: The Third Dimension.) There was a That '80s Show, but it was short-lived. I Love the '80s, a part of a series of decade retrospectives, became the most popular of the series and spawned two sequel series. In the late 2000s there a was a revival of neon and pastel colors, stereotypically associated with 1980s fashion.

The early 2010s have seen the beginning of a 1990s revival. TV channel Nickelodeon has established a block on its TEENick station featuring 1990s Nickelodeon programs. Several of Nick's 1990s game shows have been revived. There was also an I Love the '90s series. 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 - 2012 was the British company's best selling season of all time.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "French definition of ''rétro''". 1978-09-11. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  2. ^ Walker, John. (1992) "Retro". Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed.
  3. ^ Elizabeth E. Guffey, Retro: The Culture of Revival, pp. 9–22
  4. ^ Baudrillard. p. 43
  5. ^ "Bookulating Suggest-O-Mometer". Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  6. ^ Lauren Cochrane. "Dr Martens enjoy comeback with best-selling season ever | Fashion". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-01-05. 

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