Vascular basement membrane (BM) thickening is a fundamental structural alteration of small blood vessels in diabetes. Over two decades of research has established hyperglycemia as the primary causal factor mediating this alteration. Various high glucose-induced mechanisms have been investigated and excess synthesis of BM components has been identified as a major contributing factor to BM thickening. Although BM thickening has been long hailed as the histological hallmark of diabetic microangiopathy, the consequences of BM thickening on the functionality of target organs of diabetes remain elusive even today. This review presents an overview of our current understanding of the BM structure and function, and focuses on how capillary BM thickening develops, its effect on retinal vascular function, and potential strategies for preventing the development of BM thickening in diabetic retinopathy.