Vintage, Pinup, Retro, Rockabilly… What’s the difference, anyway?

I’ve lately been pondering how very many distinguishing titles there are for us gals in the vintage-loving community. The nostalgic aesthetic can be taken very different ways, after all! The look of the fifties and sixties has been stretched to great heights, even to the dramatic niche aesthetic of psychobilly style. While I won’t be discussing that particular one here – I feel it reaches slightly beyond my understanding and my goal here on The Homemade Pinup – it certainly emphasizes the diversity of the past fashions when combined with modern tastes.

What’s the difference between all these groupings? Where do you fit in the range of familiar titles? Read on to see my understanding of the four most common labels below – and why they matter, anyway!


Come On Get Poppy MCCarlotte Heels by Miz Mooz RCrafty Cooking Dress MC
Come On Get Poppy Dress from Modcloth, Miz Mooz Carlotta Heels from Ruche, Crafty Cooking Dress from Modcloth

I begin with what is, in my mind, the broadest of aesthetic styles. Modern brands that recall this look include Modcloth and Ruche. “Retro” styling is quite often signified by the words vintage inspired. Consequently, it is appropriate that this wildly popularf trend picks and choses from past elements of fashion to create a look that lightly recalls the eras from which they come. Think ruffles, fit-and-flare dresses, soft hues, and quirky elements like tights, hats, and chunky heels or charming little ballet flats. These looks often include shorter hems and more whimsical patterns than their vintage inspirations. “Retro” is the most expansive and flexible of our related labels and fittingly appeals to a vast amount of individuals, whether they ascribe to other vintage tastes or not.


Spotted Lady Dress - SteadySteady Swallow Capris - Sourpuss Day of the Dead dress HT

Spotted Lady Dress by Steady, Steady Swallow Capris at Sourpuss, Day of the Dead Dress by Hot Topic

The “Rockabilly” aesthetic is never one that I aspired to, but is nevertheless one that I feel I understand – a great testament to this fashion’s pervasive effect and distinct styling (I know the least about it, though, so forgive me if I don’t represent it perfectly). The rockabilly look is fascinating because it goes far beyond that – beyond just a look. Rockabilly styling extends into music and lifestyle as well! Some rockabilly clothing brands include Sourpuss and Steady Clothing – even your neighborhood Hot Topic tries their hand in the rockabilly game. The rockabilly look is powerful and bold, featuring bright primary tones, classic patterns or animal print, stiletto heels, and details such as skulls, bows, and swallows. The beauty styling can include unnatural hair colors, piercings, tattoos.. Where other aesthetics may not display much in this area, in rockabilly these elements shine. Cherry Dollface is a figure who really exemplifies this style in my mind! Rockabilly fashions can include many of the features seen in the category below (“Pinup”), or none at all, making it a very flexible aesthetic. A cool feature of this is that you don’t necessarily have to buy specific brands to get the look, but can, for example, supplement with a striped or polka dotted shirt from a discount store or wear your favorite pair of jeans.


Lauren Top Harlequin Jenny PUG Lauren Top, DD Capris, HeadscarfMid Century House OBSLauren Top and Harlequin Jenny by PUG, Deadly Dames Capris by PUG, Mid Century House Skirt by Oblong Box Shop


The beautiful Jessica of Pinup Persuasion rocking an equally beautiful flower by NicCoCo Creations

I often find “Pinup” to be the hardest aesthetic to pin down (pun intended ;). Made famous particularly by cult brand Pinup Girl Clothing, as well as by small businesses like The Oblong Box Shop and NicCoCo Creations, this style has created countless mega idols like Miss Rockabilly Ruby, Miss Victory Violet, Jessica of Pinup Persuasion, and of course Amanda and Katie of Junebugs and Georgia Peaches. It is women like these, and many others, who serve as constant inspirations to a world of pinup mavens. The modern usage of pinup, however, strays from the pin-up art that originated the term. The modern label doesn’t necessarily recall the sensual and suggestive artwork of Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas, though our usage today does indeed retain some of that fantastic sex appeal.

The greatest thing about this aesthetic is how wonderfully figure flattering the cuts of most garments are. Skirts emphasize the natural waist, dresses hug the curves, and tops embellish what nature gave us. Common themes include circle skirts, chiffon headscarves, cleavage, and novelty prints. Shoes are often less vintage and more, well – sexy! The hair and makeup are decidedly modern with a solid vintage inspiration, featuring exaggerated elements like fluffed up curls and large victory rolls (hello, suicide roll). Though I sometimes have mixed feelings about the pinup aesthetic for myself, I absolutely adore how confident and beautiful women clearly feel when dressed in this fashion – and select pieces can be carefully chosen from these well-known brands to create a truly authentic vintage look! Which leads us to…


1940s Chinos Freddies pencil-skirt-navy-plaid-p472-4986_image
1940s Chinos by Freddie’s of Pinewood, Pencil Skirt and Swagger Jacket by Vivien of Holloway

Mildred shoes miss l fireClaremont-brown
Miss L Fire “Mildred” Shoes, photo by Mode De Lis, Claremont Oxfords by American Duchess

Finally, vintage is the look that is perhaps most particular, since it attempts to recreate the look of eras past. This is the style that I love best and try to work it into my daily life. Branding is more difficult, since true vintage is the best way to go if authenticity is the goal, but several niche brands such as What Katie Did, Miss L Fire, and Rocket Originals offer beautiful and faithful representations of vintage pieces. Clothing can be far more difficult… it is quite challenging to get the right vintage “feel.” Freddie’s of Pinewood, The Original Bad Girl, and Vivien of Holloway offer some lovely repros that look the part; if perused and purchased carefully, Trashy Diva, Pinup Girl Clothing, and even Unique Vintage can help fill in your wardrobe (though the latter toes the line of retro, pinup, and vintage all at once). Fortunately, vintage shoe companies are quite plentiful, with even more offerings from Re-Mix Vintage and Royal Vintage Shoes to complete the look. The best (and worst) part of vintage is that it requires some hunting, whether for true vintage or repros, but I think the thrill of the perfect find makes it all the more exciting!

So why does it matter?

Well, in short, it doesn’t. How you dress should make you happy, regardless of labels and titles. But as much as labels can limit us, they can also give us the opportunity to meet and bond with other individuals who feel the same as we do. How many of us have met good friends through the retro, rockabilly, pinup, or vintage communities? I’d say a very large amount, and that’s the beauty of this. Though initially about dress alone, we can create lasting connections that mean so much more than the clothes we put on or the way we do our hair. A particular aesthetic also brings with it a particular lifestyle and community, so I consider (these) labels to be a very good thing after all. With labels can come self-discovery and awareness, after all. Putting ourselves “in a box,” as labeling is often viewed, can indeed be truly positive if it extends so far beyond clothing.

Dovima Ballerina dress UVThe absolutely dreamy and decadent Dovima Ballerina Dress by Unique Vintage, I’m sure named after the famous model Dovima!

Do you fall under any of these categories? What are your favorite brands for your favorite aesthetic?

Until next time,
Lauren || The Homemade Pinup

12 thoughts on “Vintage, Pinup, Retro, Rockabilly… What’s the difference, anyway?

  1. This is a great breakdown of the various styles. I’m not sure how I’d define myself – I was going to say Retro, but I’ve lately found myself embracing what I call ‘new vintage’ (basically brand-new garments made from vintage patterns). Maybe this just defines the fluidity of these styles – we’re constantly changing!


  2. Lovely read. years ago when I started this journey of mine I was a cross between vintage, as I owned quite a bit, pin up, and even some rockabilly thrown in. Starting over with my wardrobe 10 years later and without any of the lovely items I owned ( long story) I would be what you call split personality once again. I probably use the hash tag pin up and retro more than anything or vintage inspired on occasion. Daily I dress more rockabilly/retro mix, combining eras and styles with a dash of vintage.Life style well, I am not fond of the modern rockabilly music favoring J. Cash and Elvis to The reverend Horton Heat. I do have tattoos and enjoy car shows and going to see rockabilly bands when I am able to ( if they are more old school that is) but that is as far as it goes…my house is vintage, but my decor is not…wish it was tho. When I am doing photo shoots for my blog its more pin up in nature with a dash of fashion model LOL I like to think of myself as a retro housewife living in a modern world and I am a pot luck of all the terms. Never was one that liked to fit inside the box, color in the lines or be put in a corner style and life wise.


  3. Such an informative write-up! It’s hard to put myself in a particular group… I have always been kinda “retro”, then I got into the rockabilly/pin-up scene when I started dancing rock n roll… and then started venturing into vintage when I started feeling more comfortable in my own skin… I still go back and forth between these styles!


  4. I LOOOVE this! I agree with all of your descriptions of each. I fall into a different bucket all the time. For work, I am often retro or very housewife vintage. When I am out on weekends or at parties, I dip into the pinup and rockabilly style. I just love how versatile this style can be for all settings!


  5. I really enjoyed reading your definitions of these terms, was very interesting. (:
    I kind of like labeling, actually. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not the best thing to put people in boxes, but as you said, it knid of helps to get to know people as well.
    Me personally, I’d say, it’s mostly Pinup for me, but there are Rockabilly, Vintage and Retro Elements, but the borders are really fluid, I think.
    Have a wonderful day!


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