What's the Difference Between Old, Vintage, and Retro Purses?

There is a lot of confusion around the term “vintage.” Does vintage mean old? What about vintage vs retro - are they the same thing? Can a modern designer make vintage handbags? 

Well my curious kookaburras, let’s settle this hoopla once and for all! 

Some lovely vintage vixens (not naming any names), have enquired about my figural wicker handbags at Wicker Darling, and whether or not we can actually call them vintage. 

But whether our rattan handbags are vintage vs retro might really be in the eye of the beholder - and may depend on the passing of time. You see, in the truest sense of vintage vs retro, the definitions are quite time-oriented. 

In the history of handbags and women's clutches, many factors have gone into the valuation of one’s arm candy. Alongside material, quality, rarity, and designer status, the age of a purse is often a key component in attributing its value. Plus, when we date a handbag, it gives us a social context for its creation.

So, for my retro lovers and confused collectors of cute animal bags alike, let’s discuss the difference between retro vs vintage vs antique purses, so you can have a clear understanding of where our ridiculous handbags at Wicker Darling fit into the mix. 

What defines something as antique vs vintage vs retro?

When scanning through online sales platforms for purses, you’ve undoubtedly come across labels of “vintage” and “antique.” 

But what does that really mean for your handbag, and is there a difference between the two?

Items are often labeled incorrectly by their sellers, who prescribe inaccurate definitions to their wares. Many sellers consider anything ancient and dusty to be antique, something old and used to be vintage, and something outdated to be retro - hoping these flashed terms will add appeal to their items.

We’ll forgive them for that. 

Because antique, vintage, and retro purses can (and should) be completely positive things. But wicker or not, it is important to know exactly what you are (or are not) getting into with your purse purchase. 

What is antique?

The word “antique” comes from the Latin “antiquus” meaning old or ancient. Just how old is an antique? 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an antique is “a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs laws at least 100 years ago.”

So, if something was made less than 100 years ago, it’s not a true antique by definition. 

Of course, nowadays, people use the word loosely. To today’s teens, dial-up phones and VHS tapes would probably be considered “antique.” (Ooph.) If we’re being picky though - and my sweet sugarplums, today we are - those items are “vintage.” 

What is vintage?

It is difficult to define vintage (cue frustrated sighs). That’s because the term is used even more loosely than antique!

But to quote Merriam-Webster again, vintage refers to “a period in which something was made or was begun” or “of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality.”

There’s a lot to work with here.

The first definition can certainly be used to describe wine, but the latter is more to the point for vintage apparel and accessory lovers. Vintage items are ones that clearly represent a previous era or time period in our society. Items made with such care and quality that they still turn heads today. 

If a purse is recognizable as being from a past era, say the Lucite or wicker purses of the 50s or Enid Collins bags from the 60s, then we consider it vintage. Because of their nostalgic form and impeccable craftsmanship, vintage purses have become quite the collectors items. 

Here at Wicker Darling, our wicker bags - while not being vintage (in age) at the time of purchase - are absolutely perfect as a nod to iconic vintage trends. A certain fish purse can transport you back to an era of iconic children’s books. A flamingo purse adds a dash of Mid Century Modern, weekend-in-Palm-Springs vibe to any look. And a carefully-tied silk scarf on your neck is the finishing touch to any 50s-inspired poodle skirt ensemble.

What’s more, we issue a collector’s card of authenticity with each and every hand-crafted creation that leaves our atelier. With the proper care, your wicker purse will age like fine wine - and hold its value as a true vintage collectible years down the road.

But there’s more. Because vintage purses are often described as retro too. Which can leave you wondering “What is the actual difference between vintage vs retro?” 

What is retro?

Retro comes from, you guessed it, Latin. In Latin, retro means “backwards.” 

But that’s a pretty negative way to describe retro, as retro purses are most assuredly NOT “backwards fashion.” Where the definition ties in is this: Retro items are inspired by looking back at the fashion of past eras. In essence, bringing old fashion styles back into the future. Now that’s better.

So say, if some 70s-inspired bell bottom pants or flapper-girl-esque dresses show up in the display window of a modern fashion maven, those clothes are “retro.” But a 1920s-style dress could not be called antique unless it was actually MADE in the 1920s. 

As we get closer to modern day, the line between vintage vs retro becomes a bit blurred. 

This can be seen clearly by the fact that a common search on Google is: “Is 90s retro or vintage?”

While I simply hate to think of the 90s as EITHER (this is really aging me here), it would arguably be considered both, depending on who you ask. 

How long before something is considered vintage?

Just how old is considered vintage? Well, the answer changes depending on who you ask. For example, the vintage and antique seller Ruby Lane stipulates that the term vintage should only be used for items that are at least 20 years old. Still others claim that something cannot be “true vintage” unless it is at least 50 years old. 

So how old does a vintage item really need to be? And where do you draw the line on vintage vs retro?

The general consensus seems to be that a vintage item should be at least one or two decades old, but less than 100 years of age (because then it is an antique). A retro item, on the other hand, has probably been crafted in the last 15 to 20 years. 

So, is retro the same as vintage?

The definition is truly not the same between vintage vs retro. Where the confusion between vintage vs retro items often lies is that they can look startlingly similar, and can both reference the same time periods. 

Of course, where vintage vs retro clothes and accessories differ is that vintage pieces are actually from the era they reference, while retro ones are not. Retro items don’t have to be old, and in fact, are usually brand new. 

One could say (and we do often) “vintage-inspired.”

When discussing vintage vs retro handbags, for example, you could have two nearly identical pieces made 50 years apart. The elder purse would be vintage, and the new purse would be retro. Or, described from a different angle, in vintage vs retro, vintage refers to construction, while retro refers to appearance. 

Retro purses are often more affordable than vintage ones, because you aren’t paying for the years or the quality of a vintage collectible. But that should certainly not be the only factor you consider, for there are many high-quality retro pieces well worth the investment.

But wait, there’s more! 

Vintage items can absolutely be retro. (Bear with me here.) 

You see, if someone made a purse in the 1950s that was modeled after a 1920s reticule, then the purse would be made in an older style (retro) but was created many decades in the past (vintage.) 

So darlings, though age is just a number, in this example, it’s a very important number indeed.

The retro vs vintage vs antique conversation all boils down to time. When a piece was made, the era it referenced, and the era we are currently in! That also means that the label of an item as vintage vs retro vs antique will shift and change as we continue to move through the years.

What’s retro today, will be vintage in the future (like our rattan handbags!). 

Does vintage mean used? 

If you want another difference in the connotation between vintage vs retro, it is this. When many people hear “vintage purse” they assume that the handbag in question is used or second-hand. And there is a good chance they could be right. After all, a vintage item has some years behind it, and that purse was most likely greatly enjoyed by someone at some point. 

We can’t blame them for that!

But while “second-hand” has an old and rundown connotation at times, vintage shouldn’t. Vintage pieces can retain extremely good quality, even after they have been taken for a spin or two on the town.

And who is to say that the vintage purse was used at all? Some vintage collectors are just that - collectors, who put their precious pieces up on a display shelf where they sit contentedly until their sale. 

I repeat: a vintage piece does not equal old and stuffy. In fact, some vintage handbags are actually quite modern. 

What else makes a handbag vintage?

A vintage handbag is not simply an old bag. That connotation does a vintage collector’s item an absolute disservice. A vintage bag will often outlast a modern one because the materials and workmanship are of a high quality. It simply stands out when compared to the items in today’s fast-fashion market. 

A vintage bag is also unique and unusual. A real work of art. A time capsule. And of course, the ultimate conversation starter.  

And sure, a vintage piece is one that is older, but it has one that has lasted, in great form, to that age. It has stood the test of time, and is still as enviable as ever. 

So now you know what makes a handbag vintage. It is more than JUST age. It is that je ne sais quoi. It is that impeccable craftsmanship that takes you back in time - and catapults you into the future with a certain sartorial flare that trandescents modern trendiness. 

Are Wicker Darling wicker handbags vintage?

Alas, our wicker bags are more vintage-inspired than true vintage, as Wicker Darling was only born in 2018. (But that makes a Wicker Darling purse no less a piece of collectable art!) The great thing about our purses not being true vintage in age, is that they are sturdy. 

You see, wicker is many wonderful things. Wicker is sustainable, and vegan (so long as it doesn’t have leather details!), and can be extremely long lasting when you know how to care for wicker baskets and bags

Many rattan/wicker things you might find at a flea market haven’t been lovingly cared for, and that’s why this material is notorious for being fragile. (And we don't want any handles, fins or feet falling off your glorious wicker menagerie!) So, if you purchase a true vintage wicker purse, you have no idea how well it was cared for by its previous owner, and therefore, don’t know how long it will actually last YOU. 

Get working on that vintage wicker purse collection

A Wicker Darling purse is built to last. We use the highest quality materials and craftsmanship - and I personally do quality control on each individual design. We do all this because we want you to have the absolute best designer wicker bags on the planet. 

We also do it so that one day, these quirky wicker creatures really CAN be vintage and not just retro and vintage-inspired. It is with this in mind that we include authenticity cards with all our handmade handbags

They are meant to be loved by you and your family or friends for generations - as real (ridiculous) heirloom pieces.

So whether you’re a rockabilly sartorialist, or simply have a penchant for dinosaur purses, you’ll find yourself right at home with our quirky collection. And the best part? A new, limited-edition, chonk of a wicker collector’s item comes out each month at Wicker Darling. So come see what designer wicker handbags we have for pre-order today! 

December 15, 2021 — Averi Melcher