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What is Retro Clothing?

By A. Rohlandt
Updated May 21, 2024
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Retro clothing is outdated or aged items of clothing. The retro era is usually considered to be the 1940s through the 1980s. It can be broken down into various subcategories such as hippie, disco, 40s and 50s, and even workout outfits from the 80s.

The word retro comes from a Latin prefix meaning "backward" or " in past times." The term retro can be applied to clothing from various eras, and there are a wide variety of styles to choose from. Retro clothing probably won't suit everyone's tastes, but it makes the individual wearing it stand out from the crowd. Personal preference plays an important role when choosing a specific style.

The hippie style normally refers to clothing from the late 1960s and brings the term "flower power" to mind. One of the trademark fashions of that era was the "bell bottom." Bell bottoms were trousers with legs that widened, or flared sharply, towards the bottom. Some of the other popular fashion items during this period were corduroy trousers or suits and long flared skirts with bright designs.

Disco refers to clothing from the seventies disco era. This type of retro clothing style features leisure suits with bell-bottom trousers, mismatched patterns, and big collars. Some of the common fabrics were tweed, polyester, and corduroy. Experimentation with different textures and colors is a big part of creating the "disco look." Adding colorful beads creates a nice finishing touch.

Retro clothing sometimes refers to clothing from the 40s and 50s. The zoot suit, featuring big padded shoulders and baggy legs which tapered at the ankle, was very popular during this time. Swing and wiggle dresses were also common during this period. The main difference between these two dresses was the design below the waist. Swing dresses flared towards the bottom whereas wiggle dresses were closely fitted.

The workout look was popular during the 1980s, and this look is very easy to achieve. Retro clothing in this style consists of ripped of sweaters, sweat suits, and fitted tights or body stockings. Leg warmers are another important part of the workout look and are worn over tights or sweatpants to complete the look. The items mentioned above can all be layered to create the look but should be chosen in matching colors.

The key to creating a retro look is to decide on a style and then find clothing from that era. Retro clothing has become very popular and can be found at online retail stores, flea markets and yard sales.

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Discussion Comments

By shell4life — On Aug 16, 2012

My husband and I found some retro clothing online last year to wear to the Halloween party. We both went as hippies, and we found matching bellbottoms and peasant tops.

The tops laced up and had drawstring ties. The sleeves were long and flowing.

It's funny to me that the male version of the top looked nearly as feminine as the female version. Styles sure were different back then.

By feasting — On Aug 16, 2012

Thrift stores are the best places to find cheap retro clothing. Of course, you never know which ones will have what you are looking for, but searching for the items is half the fun!

I once found a genuine seventies leisure suit there. I bought it just because I thought that it was so cool. I've never worn it, but it was only $10, and now I own a piece of fashion history!

By kylee07drg — On Aug 15, 2012

@OeKc05 – I remember seeing a lot of music videos made in the eighties in which people were wearing workout clothes. They were usually dancing pretty hardcore, too, so it is hard to tell if they were intending to show them off as workout clothes or as a fashion statement.

My sister was a teenager in the eighties, and we still have a lot of her clothes up in our attic. I think a lot of the other eighties clothing is way more interesting. Ripped faded jeans, jerseys, and tops with intentional holes all in the sleeves are a few items that I have actually borrowed from my sister's collection to wear to costume parties.

By OeKc05 — On Aug 14, 2012

I think that retro style workout clothing is so funny. Did people actually wear this stuff when they went out, or was it strictly worn during exercise?

I find it strange that anyone would wear leg warmers during a workout. Aren't you supposed to be wearing items that let you cool off as your body temperature heats up?

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