AskDefine | Define retro

Dictionary Definition

retro adj : affecting things past; "retroactive tax increase"; "an ex-post-facto law"; "retro pay" [syn: ex post facto, retroactive] n : a fashion reminiscent of the past

User Contributed Dictionary



From rétro.


  1. of, or relating to the past, past times, or the way things were
  2. affecting things past; retroactive, ex post facto


of, or relating to the past, past times, or the way things were
affecting things past; retroactive, ex post facto


  1. something, such as a fashion, from the past; a retro trend
  2. a retrorocket

Extensive Definition

Retro is a term used to describe aspects of modern culture which are consciously derivative or imitative of those trends, modes, fashions, or attitudes of the recent past which have or had come to be seen as unfashionable.


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 (Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, p. 43).


“Retro” can be used to simply mean “old fashioned” or old, functioning much like “timeless” or “classic”. It has also been associated with modernism in the immediate post-war years, encompassing an aesthetic that ranges from tailfins on Cadillacs to ranch houses. Sometimes, it can also suggest an entire outlook on life, for example, social conservatism, home schooling or the embrace of traditional gender roles. “Retro” can also be applied to forms of technological obsolescence, for example, manual typewriters, cash registers, bulky hand-held cell phones, or the resurrection of old computer games. But 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. "Retro" sometimes also refers to the fifties era.
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.
Retro also can mean a type of music like Hip Hop.

Specific types of retro


Retrogaming is a pastime which is becoming increasingly popular where individuals play video games on vintage computers or vintage game consoles; although the idea of what constitutes a vintage or retro machine is one open to debate. Typically most retro gamers are interested in Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and classic Game Boy games and consoles.

Retro cars

Retro cars are newly designed cars such as the Toyota FJ Cruiser, PT Cruiser, Plymouth Prowler, MINI, Chevrolet HHR, Chevrolet SSR, New Beetle, or 2005-present Ford Mustang that take many of their style cues from (respectively) the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, Chrysler Airflow, the 1932 Ford, the Austin Mini, Chevrolet Suburban, old Chevrolet pickups, especially the 3100, the VW Beetle, and 1965-70 Ford Mustang without using any of the original technologies.

Retro Fashion

Retro fashion 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 those times and many people use them in an exaggerated way and in combination with current clothing. Examples are: leather handbags from the 50's, "bell jeans", big sunglasses, funky jackets (commonly Adidas Classics) and shoes, small neckties, sport equipment, etc.

Retro Erotica

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 hose 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.

Retro Sport

A specific and clear example of this trend is the way in which the sport garments from the 70's and 80's 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. An 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 rise their sales.

Retro Music

Retro, during the 1980's, 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 '80s and Psychedelic genre of the late 1960's and 70's. 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 vary; nonetheless, not all music - not even all dance music - from the decades of the 1980s were considered Retro music. Now, in fact, retro music is only that of which came out of the retro era. The retro era today is considered the time frame between 1966, the Beatles' release of "Rain" and "Tomorrow Never Knows," and 1977, when California became the final state to outlaw LSD. This psychedelic style of music is still widely listened to today.

Retro Metal

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 Generation Y 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.


  • Elizabeth E. Guffey, 2006: Retro: The Culture of Revival, London: Reaktion.
  • Jean Baudrillard, 1995: Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Raphael Samuel, 1994: Theatres of Memory, London: Verso.
  • James C. Collins, 1989: Uncommon Cultures. Popular Culture and Post-Modernism, New York/London: Routledge.
  • Umberto Eco, 1986: Travels in Hyperreality, New York: Harcourt.
  • Umberto Eco, 1988 (1964, 1978): The Structure of Bad Taste, Amsterdam: Bert Bakker.
  • Clem Robyns, 1991: "Beyond the first dimension: recent tendencies in popular culture studies", in Joris Vlasselaers (Ed.) The Prince and the Frog, Leuven: ALW, 14-32.
  • Andrew Ross, 1989: No Respect. Intellectuals and Popular Culture, New York/London: Routledge.
  • Retro-Trader, 2002: Web site listing and displaying many retro related items


External links

retro in Danish: Retro
retro in German: Retrowelle
retro in Dutch: Retro
retro in Japanese: レトロ
retro in Finnish: Retro
retro in Swedish: Retro
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