There are very few areas within our culture that has not been influenced by antique, vintage or retro items. Furniture in our homes are mixed with contemporary and antique, charity shops will often have a distinguished section for fashionable vintage pieces and bars are filled with retro decor to take the customers back to an earlier time period. However, these definitions are thrown about in the marketplace leaving confusion as to what is authentic or a replica, which then begs the question what defines an item to be an antique, vintage or retro? As these are common terms in our society, what also is the appeal and where has it come from?
An antique is usually an object that can be found in the home which has been made 100 years ago or more. The latin word for 'antique' is 'antiquus' which is similar to "old" and "ancient". The item can be a work of art, a piece of furniture, a collective or decorative item. The old age and high quality of the antique will raise its definitive value. If an item cannot be defined as 100 years old or more it is not an antique.
For an item to be claimed as 'vintage', it should represent the best of a particular era. The word originates as a term used to describe the year in which a wine of high quality was produced. Therefore vintage relating to fashion, furniture or any other item should speak of a certain time or the best of an era. It cannot describe an item that has been made less than twenty years ago. Just because a top has a shabby and old-fashioned look, does not deem it vintage.
If antique and vintage can be used to describe older items, retro can be used for a newer item that references or replicates styles of the past. Retro originates from the words to describe 'back', 'backwards' and 'behind'. Items have been inspired by particular eras, such as the mods from the 1950s or disco from the 1970s.
As the terms of antique, vintage and retro have been established, we'll now look at the appeal. Why do we yearn for distressed furniture in our homes and edit our selfies with an analogue-style filter? What are we trying to achieve by wanting to be portrayed in this way? Theorist Susan Luckman suggests "our escapism into a romanticised past stems from a time of instability and anxiety in which the nostalgic desire for retreat emphasises security that is otherwise absent".
The longing for vintage also stands as a backlash against the fast paced consumerism of our day. It goes without saying that craftsmanship of the past is of higher quality and lasts longer than that of mass produced products on the high street today, insomuch that options to buy an antique or vintage item would be worth investing in.
In a postmodern world, we have a variety of styles from the past to chose from and the ability to acquire the best of each period. Our contemporary oak wooden table in our home can be decorated with an Victorian antique tea set, alongside vintage tableware and a retro radio to listen to.
WORDS: Helen Williams