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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". In popular culture, the "nostalgia cycle" is typically for the two decades that are 20–30 years before the current one.
The term retro has been in use since 1972 to describe on the one hand, new artifacts that self-consciously refer to particular modes, motifs, techniques, and materials of the past. But on the other hand, many people use the term to categorize styles that have been created in the past. 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. 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, 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.
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. 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.
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consideration of the recent past; it has been called an "unsentimental nostalgia", recalling modern forms that are no longer current.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. The desire to capture something from the past and evoke nostalgia is fuelled by dissatisfaction with the present.
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.
Specific types of retro
Since the 1980s the implications of the word ‘retro’ have been expanding 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). The Internet has aided in the celebration of nostalgia through the creation of subcultures that mimic the past, oftentimes from people who were born after these decades had ended, such as TikTok repopularizing older songs among younger generations.
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.
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. 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.
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 also from the 1970s, the 1960s or 1950s. The value of old artifacts has increased, because the objects used to be considered old-fashioned and every day. In this case ‘retro’ indicates a value, which is also partly why today's retailers produce new objects in an old style.
Graphic design, typography, and packaging
Long before the use of the word ‘retro’, graphic design made reference to earlier graphic characteristics. William Morris can be seen as an example: for book design and other purposes he adopted Medieval production and stylistic models in 1891. Furthermore, in the beginning of the twentieth century, Gothic, Baroque and Rococo motifs were used for new products.
In typography, classicism has always been an influence and throughout the 20th century, and in early woodcut printing as well. The introduction of the technique of photocomposition 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. Historicist styles are also used in the promotion and packaging of food and household products, referring to childhood memories and domestic nostalgic ideals.
In logo designing, retro logos have taken quite the limelight in recent years. Brands have incorporated retro logos designs to highlight their brand voice and message: clean, classic, and reminiscent of the recent past.
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 20 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". 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".
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; these are known as throwback uniforms.
In the 2000s and 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 at this time, late 1980s-style high-waisted mom jeans made a comeback with female hipsters. In the 2010s and 2020s, 1990s fashion has made a comeback: many of the fabrics and patterns ubiquitous in that decade (such as crushed velvet and floral) are popular now, and Dr. Martens, a shoe brand popular in the 1990s, also made a strong comeback in the early 2010s, as 2011–12 was the British company's best-selling season of all-time.
The style now called "retro art" is a genre of pop art which was developed from the 1940s to 1960s, 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 programs, etc.
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 culture
Film, music, fashion, and television
The 1970s and 1980s brought about a 1950s–early '60s revival with films and television shows such as American Graffiti, M*A*S*H, Grease, Happy Days, The Lords of Flatbush, Cooley High, The Last Picture Show, Next Stop, Greenwich Village, Badlands, The New Mickey Mouse Club, The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, The Wanderers, Stand By Me, Porky's, and Back to the Future being either set in this time period or revivals of properties from that time. There was also the rockabilly revival, the revival of sock hop school dances, Sha Na Na parodying the doo-wop of the 1950s, the Beach Boys becoming a nostalgia act after the success of their Endless Summer compilation, '50s-themed diners becoming popular, the 1950s greaser look greatly influencing the punk subculture, and Billy Joel paying homage to 1950s doo-wop on his album An Innocent Man.
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed a 1960s revival with The Outsiders, The Big Chill, Hairspray, Grease 2, Good Morning Vietnam, Mermaids, Matinee, The Flintstones live-action movie, That Thing You Do!, Forrest Gump (in which the first part of this film took place in the '60s), Shag, The Wonder Years, The Sandlot, Austin Powers, 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), artists like The Monkees, The Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead, and George Harrison making a comeback, 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 British Invasion, Swinging London, and mod subcultures of the mid-1960s influenced the punk rock, mod revival, new wave, and post-punk of the late 1970s–1980s, as well as the Britpop and Cool Britannia movements of the mid-1990s. The Woodstock festival of 1969 was also celebrated with Woodstocks '89, '94, and '99. 1960s nostalgia songs were also popular in the 1980s such as "The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley, "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams, and "'65 Love Affair" by Paul Davis.
The 1990s and 2000s brought a 1970s revival. '70s-oriented films and television shows such as Dazed and Confused, Detroit Rock City, Casino, My Girl, 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), Forrest Gump (in which the second part of this film took place in the '70s), Boogie Nights (in which the first part of this film took place in the late '70s), That '70s Show, Charlie's Angels, Josie and the Pussycats, Starsky & Hutch, Fat Albert, and Lords of Dogtown were released. In the music word, there was 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; grunge being inspired by 1970s punk rock; Sugar Ray's "Every Morning" having a '70s-themed music video; Mark Wills's "19 Somethin'" paying tribute to 1970s and 1980s pop culture; 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. There was also the garage rock revival in the early 2000s with bands such as The Strokes, Jet, and The White Stripes. In 1990s fashion, there was a revival of '70s styles such as sideburns, bell bottoms, and afros.
The late 1990s began the 1980s revival, which grew into the 2000s and 2010s. 1980s-themed films and television shows such as Grosse Pointe Blank, The Wedding Singer, Boogie Nights (the second part of this film took place in the early '80s), Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Wet Hot American Summer, That '80s Show, Freaks and Geeks, American Psycho, Super 8, 21 Jump Street, The Goldbergs, The Carrie Diaries, Moonbeam City, GLOW, Stranger Things, Drive, Everybody Wants Some, It, Cobra Kai, Thor: Ragnarok, Kung Fury, and Ready Player One were released. I Love the '80s, part of a VH1 series of decade retrospectives, became the most popular of the series and spawned two sequel series. This craze also brought about revivals, remakes, sequels, and reboots to '80s franchises such as the Star Wars prequels and sequels, Inspector Gadget, Michael Bay's Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, Masters of the Universe vs. The Snake Men, Miami Vice, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Voltron: Legendary Defender, Footloose, Ghostbusters, Adventures in Babysitting, The Karate Kid, Dirty Dancing, ThunderCats (2011), and ThunderCats Roar. The post-punk revival took place in the early 2000s, with bands such as Franz Ferdinand and The Killers. Hair metal also experienced a brief resurgence during this time with Bon Jovi's "It's My Life", the Monster Ballads compilation, VH1's Rock Never Stops Tour, and various bands performing in a glam metal revival style, including The Darkness, Steel Panther, Buckcherry, and Black Veil Brides. There were also '80s nostalgia songs in the 2000s such as Bowling for Soup's "1985" and Mark Wills's "19 Somethin'". The 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City helped popularize 1980s aesthetics and music among younger generations. A trend for 1980s-style second-wave synthpop and nu-disco grew at this time, buoyed by artists such as Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, and Bruno Mars; '80s-influenced songs include "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon, "24K Magic" by Bruno Mars, "Style" by Taylor Swift, and "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson featuring Mars. In the 2010s, musical genres/subcultures such as vaporwave, synthwave, future funk, outrun, retrowave, and lo-fi music emerged that mimicked the aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s; for example, palm trees on a neon galaxy grid background, or VHS scanlines.
The 2010s and 2020s have seen a revival of the 1990s. In 2011, TV channel Nickelodeon established the NickSplat (formerly The '90s Are All That) block on its TeenNick station featuring reruns of 1990s Nickelodeon programs, accompanied by much fanfare on social media. In the early-mid 2010s, "Only '90s kids will remember" memes were popular online, as well as Buzzfeed "'90s kid" quizzes. There have been revivals of '90s television series such as Hey Arnold!, Carmen Sandiego, The X-Files, Fuller House, Saved by the Bell, Girl Meets World, Rocko's Modern Life, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Beavis and Butt-Head, The Powerpuff Girls, Blue's Clues, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Mission Hill, and Tiny Toon Adventures. There have also been sequels/reboots to '90s films such as Independence Day: Resurgence, Dumb and Dumber To, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Jurassic World, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Mulan, and The Matrix 4, as well as adaptations of '90s franchises such as Goosebumps, Wishbone, Captain Underpants, Power Rangers, Baywatch, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Batman Beyond. Television series and movies set in the 1990s such as Captain Marvel, Everything Sucks!, Fresh Off the Boat, Hindsight, Young Sheldon, Schooled, and Mid90s have been released. New jack swing briefly came back in style in 2018 with "Finesse" by Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B, with a music video inspired by In Living Color. The 2018 song "1999" by Charli XCX and Troye Sivan paid tribute to the pop culture of the late 1990s and the "Y2K aesthetic". There was also VH1's I Love the '90s series that was released in the mid-2000s. The Pokémon franchise, which was at its peak popularity in the late 1990s, experienced a second-wave Pokémania during summer 2016 with Pokémon Go; the theme song to the original Pokémon anime briefly became one of the most downloaded songs on iTunes and Spotify at this time. The Tamagotchi, originally popular in the late '90s, became a hot seller during Christmas seasons in the 2010s. Discontinued 1990s snacks and drinks such as Surge, Crystal Pepsi, Dunk-a-roos, and 3D Doritos have been re-released.
The mid-late 2010s saw the beginning of a 2000s revival, which grew into the 2020s. There have been revivals of 2000s television series such as The Proud Family, Arrested Development, Teen Titans Go!, Ben 10, Kim Possible, Invader Zim, Lizzie McGuire, Gilmore Girls, Raven's Home, Prison Break, Samurai Jack, Clone High, Gossip Girl, iCarly, True Blood, and Winx Club, as well as the relaunch of the G4 television network. There have also been sequels/reboots to 2000s films such as Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Finding Dory, Incredibles 2, and Chicken Run 2, as well as adaptations of 2000s franchises such as Artemis Fowl, Undergrads, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Television series and movies set in the 2000s such as Boyhood, Lady Bird, Pen15, Yes, God, Yes, Looking for Alaska, and Summer '03 have been released. 2000s nostalgia songs have been released at this time such as "2002" by Anne-Marie, "Thank U, Next" by Ariana Grande, "Motivation" by Normani, "Money Machine" by 100 Gecs (parodying the emo and scene kid subcultures of the 2000s, as well as crunkcore bands like Brokencyde), "Bloody Valentine" by Machine Gun Kelly, and "MORPHINE" by Princess Nokia. There was also VH1's I Love the 2000s series that was released in 2014. Discontinued early 2000s drinks such as Sprite Remix have been re-released.
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)
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.
- Old school
- Pop art
- Pop culture fiction
- Retro-style automobile
- Throwback uniform
- Vintage (design)
- List of retro style video game consoles
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