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Retro style: Back from the dead

By Joshua Yan Sept. 28, 2023 Sidelined in favor of more contemporary and progressive styles such as modernism, minimalism and futurism, the retro style has descended into obscurity since the 1970s. After more than 40 years of cultural neglect, the bold motifs and pop culture imagery of the retro era are now back in style.

Sara Zhao Art

An abbreviation of the word retrospective, retro refers to the embrace of art and fashion trends from the past in order to live in nostalgia. Specifically, it refers to the style of fashion and art introduced in the 1970s, which referenced elements from the 1940s, such as faded hues of vibrant colors, simple shapes and flowery patterns. The idea of revisiting past trends has existed for hundreds of years, appearing as early as the late 18th century. Neoclassical architecture embodied the styles of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. In 1910, the fashion designs of Paul Poiret were inspired by motifs from France in the 1790s known as the Directoire. Elements from the second empire of Louis Napoleon could be found in the works of French fashion surrealists in the 1930s, more than 60 years after its fall.

Though it fell out of style in the 1980s, retro has become popular again in recent years. For one, its appeal can be seen in the work of musical artists. Synth pop from the 1980s has a major influence on music by Harry Styles. Many popular video games also use retro elements; games like Undertale, Celeste and Stardew Valley use the 64-bit styles of those from decades past.

“There are many television shows that incorporate retro, which I am a big fan of. For example, I watched ‘That 70’s Show’ and thought that the outfits in that were really cute. Look at Jackie Burkhart, her fashion sense is so good!” Senior Jeannine Yu said.

The revival of retro style can be attributed in large part to nostalgia and a desire to relive “the good old days” because of the fond memories and emotions that they elicit. This phenomenon is referred to as “rosy retrospection.” According to The Decision Lab, a research hub on behavioral science, a person’s most vivid long-term memories are from when they were between the ages of 10 and 30. During this time, humans typically have higher levels of hormones like dopamine. This means that in general, people tend to believe that the world was better when they were younger because they felt happier during that time of their lives.

“When people see styles and aesthetics from when they were younger, they feel a connection to that time period. The modern style can feel too boring at times, and revisiting old ideas is a way for people to have something different,” Junior William Chan said.

Advertisements and media have had a key role in retro’s recent comeback as well. Many film companies use retro aesthetics in order to take advantage of the fondness that their existing fanbases hold for their childhoods. Disney’s numerous live action remakes are specifically targeted at older audiences and their families who wish to relive the classics. Though almost all of these remakes are widely considered mediocre or underwhelming by critics, they have proven to be financially successful, with “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” each generating over $1 billion.

As the world becomes increasingly more progressive and fast-paced, reminders of the past, like the style of retro, are a way for people to escape reality and appreciate the environment and circumstances that shaped them. Slowing down to remember simpler times can help people make sense of the plethora of complications that fill their lives.


About the Contributors

Joshua Yan staff writer Joshua Yan is a Junior at Leland High School and is a staff writer for The Charger Account. In his free time, he enjoys playing the piano, listening to music, and playing video games.

Sara Zhao artist Sara is an artist for The Charger Account. She likes drawing in a variety of colors.

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