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Retrophilia – The Love of All Things Retro

The word “Retro” implies that something is old fashioned, timeless or classic. The word itself is Latin, it is used as a prefix and means ‘backwards’ or ‘in the past’. This application can be seen in words such as “retrospective” meaning a nostalgic view of the past and “retrograde” referring to a movement toward the past rather than progress toward the future. Most people will have heard the word “Retro” associated with the fifties era but it is relevant to a much broader spectrum of cultural, social and artistic applications. To describe something as retro is to assign it a positive label of quirkiness or charisma but also to infer that although it is no longer obtainable it is still highly desirable.

You will find the word “Retro” associated with many areas of popular culture such as fashion, art, sport, music and erotica. In the 1960’s the usage of the word “Retro” increased when the American Space Program used it to describe a rocket which generates thrust in a direction opposite to that of the spacecraft’s motion in orbit, hence the “retrograde rocket”. Other such examples are “Retro Chic” encompassing old fashioned styles such as poodle skirts from the 1950’s.

Retro Art, also referred to as Retro Clipart, is derived from pop art which was developed in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Retro Art usually refers specifically to advertising artwork created during that period. Printing technology was in it’s infancy at that time and the majority of printed materials were restricted to one colour. It was these limitations that drove professional illustrators to develop a style of artwork which was striking and could be reproduced easily within the restraints of the industry’s technology at that time. The development of retro art was also influenced by the Art Nouveau revolution in France at the turn of the century. Art Nouveau, although disliked by art experts at the time, featured highly simplified drawings. Following this came Russian Constructivism during the Bolshevik Revolution which gave true weight to the trend of graphic simplification and which then contributed to the Art Deco movement in the 1920’s. By the 1930’s professional artists had abandoned line shading techniques such as cross-hatcing and stippling altogether and embraced the style of having pure black or white regions.

Retro music referred commonly to dance music in the U.S. during the 1990’s and was originally known as New Wave music. The advancement of electronic equipment during this era contributed to the popularization of electronic music, a departure from traditional and electromechanical instruments. Although this drove its movement into the mainstream not all dance music at that time was considered Retro music. Dance music and the psychedelic style, trance, psytrance etc. are still very much alive and kicking today. Nowadays, retro music only refers to music from the retro period.

Retro erotica can be classified as modern photography in an older style. This distinguishes it from vintage erotica which is actual period photographs or films. Retro erotica is typically photographic hardcore pornography or non-naked pinup images. It dates from the 1970’s, sometimes earlier and features specific styles of lingerie such as bullet bras, garters or girdles as well as hairstyles, props and makeup from that era.

Retro sports garments are sought after items usually from the 1970’s and 1980’s and include items such as football jackets, jerseys and t-shirts with previous club logos. Their designs usually recall the past by using colour combinations and lines in the sides representative of those periods. One such example is the FIFA World Cup held in Mexico in 1970. Retro sports garments are so popular now that brands including Puma, Nike and Adidas have divisions dedicated to this trend, and not to be excluded from this lucrative market some football, basketball and baseball clubs have also reintroduced their former garments for sale.

In this world of rapidly changing modern technology it is perhaps surprising to learn that retrogaming, gaming on vintage computers or vintage game consoles, is fast becoming a popular pastime. Retro gamers are commonly using outdated systems such as Atari 2600, Dreamcast and Nintendo Entertainment System. The Atari 2600 video game console was released in October 1977. It has been credited with promoting the use of microprocessor-based hardware and cartridges which use game code. Actually it was the Fairchild Channel F that first used this format but it was the Atari 2600 which familiarized the gaming world with the plug-in concept.

The desire for a sense of nostalgia, though unsentimental, is the driving force behind all things retro. It links us to specific times and trends in history and reminds us of where we came from. Retro is inspiring, educational and sometimes frivolous. It allows us to reminisce in the comfort of our very modern lives and to explore the trends, technology, fashions and attitudes of the good old days.

In the words of the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) “The Past – the dark unfathomed retrospect! The teeming gulf – the sleepers and the shadows! The past! the infinite greatness of the past! For what is the present after all but a growth out of the past?”

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