Vintage vs. Retro: What’s the Difference?

Just as sommeliers are exact about fine wines and painters are precise with colors, we take a lot of consideration into the fashion styles that cross through our Denver storefront. Whether it’s custom hats or vintage clothes, we take pride in having a wide range of pieces that transcend categories.

That being said, as a conscious shopper, it is important to know what you are buying and more importantly, what it’s being sold as. If you’re a real rack-runner, you are probably familiar with high-end vintage clothing stores with insane price tags for both “retro” and “vintage” pieces. Although these two terms may seem synonymous, it’s important for distinctions to be made. Not only so you don’t misrepresent yourself, but also to make sure you’re paying fair prices.

To equip you with the knowledge to better navigate our vintage clothing store in Denver and the thrifting market at large, we are breaking down the difference between vintage and retro clothes, how to spot the difference, and where to find them.

What Makes Clothes Vintage?

While a lot of vintage retailers, especially those here in Denver, have mixed opinions about what the time range that makes clothes vintage, we believe that 20 years or older is the best estimate. The fabric of these garments, the way they were made, and even their wear and tear are what make these vintage pieces truly one-of-a-kind.

marlboro jacket

What we love about vintage clothes and hats is that they always have a story. For example, when we came across an old storage unit in Wyoming loaded with custom hats designed by a true alchemist. Hand-stitched with Japanese fabrics nearly 3 decades ago, these hats are undeniably vintage.

What Makes Clothes Retro?

When it comes to retro clothes, there are both corny and impressive ways to get it done. The main distinction that needs to be made, however, is that retro clothes are newly produced items inspired by styles from the past. This means that they only mimic or imitate fashion trends from previous decades, but they weren’t originally made then.

The most common criminals of exploiting vintage style in the form of gaudy retro ware are mainstream retailers and department stores like Macy’s and GAP. However, as we mentioned, high-end thrift stores are doing it as well and charging customers big ticket prices for items that are lauded as official timepieces and authentic vintage clothes.

How Can You Spot The Difference?

When you’re shopping with us at SNAG Collective, you don’t have to worry about spotting the difference between retro and vintage, because all of our non-custom products are 100% vintage. But let's say you’re on the internet haggling with an Etsy dealer or running the racks at an NYC thrift store, how can you tell the difference?

The first place we recommend you look is the tag and find out what company made it. Is it a modern company that still manufactures clothes? Or is it a company with an established legacy and history?

mysel furs

Take this tag on one of our Mysel Fur Coats for example. The first thing to take note of is the fading on the letters - a clear indication that this coat has been aged. The next thing you can do is an obvious next step and that’s to google the company. After a brief search, we found an article from 1985 chatting about the very same company celebrating 7 decades of business. That means this coat could be over 100 years old!

While this might seem easy, it’s not always so straight forward. If you can’t infer anything from the tag, you’ll need to look at the condition and wear.

vintage leon russell shirt

Is there fading, discoloration, slight damage? If so, does it look intentional? Retro clothing retailers will go to insane lengths to accomplish this look, including adding these elements intentionally. So proceed with caution, do your research, and shop responsibly.

Where Can You Find Vintage Clothes?

When you’re shopping at SNAG Collective, you don’t need to worry about discerning whether our clothes are retro since we don’t sell any. 

At our vintage clothing store, the closest thing we have to retro would be our custom patch hats. Although the hats themselves are newly produced, we use vintage patches that were created decades ago. This is how we fuze retro styles with vintage authenticity in a way that very few custom hat designers can accomplish.

custom patch hats

If you make the mistake of shopping anywhere else for vintage clothes, like Etsy or your local thrift store, you run into the possibility of buying retro clothes sold at vintage prices. 

So when you’re looking to snag some one-of-one vintage clothes and hats, make sure you go with the ones who do it best - SNAG Collective.