Distinguishing between vintage and antique is not always as easy as one might hope, at least when it comes to collectibles. Some sources insist that an antique must be at least 100 years old, while a vintage item can be from virtually any decade or era. A 100 year old couch, for example, could be described as antique furniture, but an Art Deco couch from the 1930s would be considered vintage. Even if it survives for 100 years, the Art Deco couch could still be described as vintage because of its specific design.
One difference between vintage and antique appears to be the perceived relevance of the item. A horse-drawn wagon from the 1880s would be considered an antique, since it exists primarily as a relic of a bygone era. A restored 1957 Chevrolet convertible, on the other hand, would most likely be described as a "vintage" car, since it is evocative of a specific era and still has a considerable number of collectors today. Some collectors may even deem certain vintage items classic as an even more honorable distinction.
The distinction between antique and vintage can be even more apparent in collectible markets such as clothing. A dressing gown from the turn of the century might be considered an antique, but designer gowns from the 1960s through the 1980s would all be considered vintage. Even a gown from two or three seasons ago might be described as a "vintage Halston." The term vintage often suggest a specific year of creation, such as a 1968 Bob Mackie vintage gown.
Sometimes sellers will use the terms interchangeably, which can lead to some confusion for potential buyers. The 100 year rule for antique designation is not always in effect, and the term "vintage" may be applied to almost any item past a certain age, whether it is considered valuable or not. A vintage toy robot from the 1960s is not the same as an incomplete board game from the 1980s, although the seller may describe both as vintage. Others may use the terms retro or classic to describe reproductions made to resemble actual vintage items.
Overall the difference between vintage and antique appears to be one of age and marketability. Antique furniture and other collectibles over 100 years old are generally handled by professional antiques dealers or history buffs, while vintage items are often bought and sold by private collectors or amateur enthusiasts.