What's the Difference Between Vintage and Antique?

Hint: Your kindergarten lunchbox is not an antique, even if you do sometimes feel ancient.

If you've ever browsed through a flea market or antique store only to spy something similar to your old lunch box or vinyl record collection on display, it can be simultaneously nostalgic and confusing. As exciting as it might be to reconnect with treasures from your past, you may also wonder how such items can be considered antiques (you also might be kicking yourself for not saving them once you see the price tag). It's a fair question. The truth is, there's a difference between antique, vintage, and retro, even that you're likely to see examples of all three categories at antique stores. To learn more, we talked to Sarah Eilers, owner of Lucas Eilers Design Associates in Houston, and Phara Queen, owner of Neely Queen Designs in Nashville and Oklahoma City.


Laurey W. Glenn

What is the definition of antique?

Although you may see the word "antique" bandied about when discussing anything collectible or old, Eilers and Queen are both clear that an object doesn't meet the true definition of antique unless it's been around for at least 100 years. "It is more than just having a patina of age," says Eilers. "It is actually that the item was crafted that many years ago and has stood the test of time." Chances are your old lunch box doesn't fall into this category, regardless of how they've labeled it at the flea market.

What is the definition of vintage?

The definition of vintage is less standard. Queen says vintage "typically speaks to an era and is between 20 to 99 years old." Eilers, on the other hand, defines it as "something that isn't as old as an antique, but still a bit aged, and slightly used." In other words, your kindergarten lunchbox, and other items from your past, may very well qualify as vintage.

What is the definition of retro?

There is often quite a bit of overlap between vintage items and retro items. Queen considers retro to be "anything 20 years old, but not yet 40 years old." Eilers has a somewhat looser definition: "I think that anytime something reminds you of your past, it can be considered retro."

What are some upcoming antique/retro/vintage design trends?

We asked Queen and Eilers to share their thoughts on upcoming design trends and decor finds to look for the next time you head out on an antiquing tour. "I am seeing some wonderful bargains on 19th-century brown furniture," says Eilers. "It is almost always high quality and often less expensive than buying new. And the woods have such a rich, wonderful patina."

Queens says "granny chic" is making a comeback. Think chintz fabric and wallpaper with floral patterns, wall sconces with bows, needlepoint pillows, tassels, and quilts—in other words, anything your grandmother would have had in her house when you were growing up. "A lot of young people call themselves 'Grandmillenials' and they are bringing this era back with a vengeance," she says.

But however you choose to decorate, at least now you'll know if those secondhand finds are antique, vintage, or retro.

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