From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Retro is a culturally outdated or aged style, trend, mode, or fashion that has since that time become the norm once again. The use of "retro" style iconography and imagery is interjected into current art, advertising, mass media, etc. It generally implies a vintage of at least 15 or 20 years. For example clothing from the 1980s or 1990s could be retro.
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 It has been called an “unsentimental nostalgia,” recalling “modern” forms that are no longer current.
Today it is often used in a positive sense, referring to quirky or attractive products that are no longer available. For example, "Retro fashion" or "Retro Chic" may consist of outdated styles, such as tie-dyed shirts from the 1960s, or poodle skirts from the 1950s. A love of retro objects (things from the past) is called retrophilia.
Retro often reflects a sensibility aligned with camp. Camp is an ironic attitude, an explicit re-introduction of non-dominant forms.
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 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 it was introduced into English by the fashion and culture press, where it suggests a rather cynical revival of older but relatively recent fashions. (Elizabeth E. Guffey, Retro: The Culture of Revival, pp. 9–22). 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.
Specific types of retro
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.
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.
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 dates from circa 1960 - 1980. Retrofashion 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 50s, "bell-bottom jeans", big sunglasses, fedoras, funky jackets (commonly Adidas Classics) and shoes, small neckties, chiffon scarves, sport equipment, skinny jeans 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 '50s.
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.
A specific and clear example of this trend is the way in which the sport garments from the 70s and 80s 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 colours 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.
Retro, during the 1990s, referred to a new genre of music, particularly dance music, popular in the U.S. at the time and originally termed New Wave music which was in part an outgrowth of the Punk rock genre of the late 1970s and early 1980s and Psychedelic genre of the late 1960s. Many of the songs and albums termed retro at the time came about during great advancement in the development of generating music electronically (that is, with computers and electronic equipment - or Electronic music - rather than with either traditional or electromechanical instruments) and the popularization of this type of music in the mainstream. Ideas as to how broad and inclusive the Retro category of music is varied; nonetheless, not all music - not even all dance music - from the decade of the 1990s were considered Retro music. Now, in fact, retro music refers only to music that came out of the retro era. This psychedelic style of music is still widely listened to today.
In the mid-2000s, a rise in popularity of hard rock music combining classic rock elements with psychedelia, heavy metal and modern hard rock came to prominence among the Millennial Generation and others, with such bands as Wolfmother, The Sword, Jet and Buckcherry becoming very successful using methods of past bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Beatles and Pink Floyd. While the strength of the "movement" has been argued by some music critics on both sides, "retro" or "heritage metal" has become a common term for trendy hard rock.
Retro rock is modern original music, but influenced by all the genres of the ‘50’s and ’60’s – rock and roll, blues, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, west coast, psychedelia etc - without specifically fitting into any one of them. These include indie pop groups like Oasis, Kaiser Chiefs and Razorlight imitating the clothing and hairstyles of the Mod subculture, or neo-rockabilly bands like The Baseballs reworking modern pop songs.
- Old school
- Popular culture studies
- Period piece
- Lana Del Rey
- Laver's Law