Boho - The Fashion History Of Bohemian StyleBohemian style has, for over 200 years, been an exotic alternative to the accepted fashions of agiven period. Generally associated with artists, writers, and intellectuals, bohemian cultureincorporates Gypsy, and various ethic clothing styles, as well as historical costume.Bohemian style consists of loose, colorful clothing and has appeared as boho chic, hippie style, andAesthetic dress. With their long flowing hair and rich, though threadbare fabrics, bohemians stand outin a crowd representing a colorful counterculture based on creativity, poverty, and an indifference tosocial structures and traditions.The Bohemians, as a counterculture, appeared in France after the French Revolution. Deprived of theformer system of patronage, where wealthy clients supported the arts, artists were plunged intopoverty. Many took up a nomadic life style, lived cheaply, and wore worn out and unfashionable orused clothing.Formerly, an artist was seen as a skilled and talented crafts person. But the Romantic Movement ofthe late 18th century rejected the confines of bourgeois life and the former importance placed onreason, to embrace the imagination.A new cult of personality emerged with the artist as hero and individual style expressed in the wayone dressed. An artist became a special type of person, not merely a crafts person, but a kind ofeccentric genius whose creativity was displayed in the way they lived and looked. The artist himself(or herself) was a piece of art.People compared the new artistic types to wandering Gypsies and believed that Gypsies originated inBohemia, an area of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. So, they came to refer to artists andintellectuals as Bohemians. (Gypsy was a European term for the Romany people, an ethnic groupwith Indian origins who had migrated north. The word Gypsy, derived from the word Egyptian, whichmany thought the actual home of the nomadic people who were often social outcasts that livedoutside the mainstream.)By the 1830s, the French Bohemian art crowd and the Romantics embraced medieval and orientalclothing styles. With their colorful fabrics, long flowing hair, and wide brimmed hats, the artistic culturedid come to resemble Gypsies.The novelist Henri Murger wrote tales about the people that he called bohemians, centering on agroup of artists and intellectuals in threadbare coats, old shoes, and a general look of dishevelment.The stories inspired Puccinnis famous opera, La Boheme.Bohemian style evolved into a cult of the individual, a person whose very appearance became a workof art with carefully planned outfits and accessories. The word bohemian suggested a sense ofarcane enlightenment, sexual freedom, and poor personal hygiene.Bohemian life rejects materialism, private property, and centers on creativity and communal living.Often associated with the use of drugs and alcohol, bohemians ignore social convention, centeringtheir lives on art.In the 19th century, the Aesthetic Movement became a type of bohemian life style. The Aesthetics
rebelled against the rigid social constraints of the Victorian era and embraced a style based on theclothing of the past, particularly medieval dress and oriental designs.Beliving that the mass production of the Industrial Revolution was dehumanizing, the Aestheticsstrove to encourage the old techniques of the Middle Ages with individually crafted goods. Clothingwas loose and soft, using fabrics colored with organic dyes and decorated with hand embroidery. ThePre-Raphaelite artists of the day rejected corsets, crinolines, and the stiff bodices and restrictiveclothing of Victorian fashion.Bohemian style, now referred to as boho chic, has come down through history, reappearing asbeatnik style and in the hippie culture of the 1960s. For 200 years, bohemian style has consisted ofseveral fashion elements.• Loose, flowing clothing made of natural fabrics• Less restrictive garments worn without corsets, bras or other restrictive elements• Loose, flowing hair• Colorful scarves worn at the neck, on the head, or instead of a belt• Peasant style clothing including tunics, loose trousers, boots, and sandals• Used or worn clothing• Oriental elements including robes, kimonos, an the ethnic designs of Persia, India, Turkey, and China• Mixing historical elements of medieval clothing with ethnic styles• Layering• Matching of garments in a nontraditional manner, such as mixing prints, or unusual color combinations• Multi strands of beads, several bangle bracelets, and the wearing of unusual, hand crafted, or unmatched jewelry• Large dangle or large hoop earrings• Broad brimmed hats• Patched clothing• Paisley, flowered fabrics, ruffles, lace edged sleeves• A general disregard for tidiness and uniformity of dress• A look of contrived dishevelmentThe Rainbow Gathering is an annual meeting of like minded individuals with a bohemian bent thatreject capitalism and materialism and embrace utopian ideals, the creative life, environmentalism, anddiversity.The Hippie Movement of the late 1960s incorporated bohemian ideals. Centered on creativity of lifeand dress, hippie style included elements of historic costume, ethnic dress, and a rejection ofmainstream life. To the right, in a clip from the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, Country Joe and theFish perform to a crowd dressed in classic hippie style.
Greenwich Village, New York or The Village was a gathering place for impoverished artists andwriters in the 20th century, a haven for the creative communtiy as a distinctive minority group.The Left Bank In the early 20th century, the Montparnasse area of Paris France was a hub ofcreativity that attracted artists, writers, and intellectuals. Here, people like Marc Chagall, ErnestHemingway, Henri Matisse, and others were able to live cheaply, meeting in bistros and restaurantsto share ideas.La Boheme and the Musical Rent - The musical Rent is based on Puccinis opera La Boheme. Thestory revolves around a group of artists living the bohemian life and their struggles with poverty anddisease.Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyles first short story featuring Sherlock Holmes included DoctorWatsons description of the famous fictional detectives bohemian soul.Paul Poiret - The early 20th century fashion designer reworked a variety of ethnic designs forWestern fashion. His use of elements of Russian peasant costume, Middle Eastern, oriental, andhistoric dress introduced bohemian concepts int high fashion that eventually bled into mainstreamfashion.William and Jane Morris - William Morris was a designer who created alternative textiles for clothingand interior design, known for his involevment in liberal socialism, historic preservation and known asan early environmentalist. He also designed clothes for his wife, Jane Morris, a model who becamean icon of the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements in her loose, medieval style dresses andabundant long hair.Dorelia McNeill was a model for the artists Gwen and Augustus John in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies. Augustus and Dorelia lived a gypsy life in a caravan while he painted her in long, looseskirts and scarves as they lived in a personal bohemian utopia.Basically unchanged for many years, bohemian style came to be associated with young peoplehoping to distance themselves from the materialistic culture of past generations. Bohemian style gavebirth to more modern counter culture styles. Beatniks, with their black turtle necks and striped shirtstook on a more austere tone of dress. Hippie style introduced a note of childhood into the mix byincorporating cowboy and Indian styles as well as short, girlish skirts.But as mass media embraced bohemianism, one wonders if the term is still viable. When a counterculture goes mainstream, the style can no longer be viewed as alternative.When discount stores sell peasant skirts, and fashion magazines offer expensive designer madebohemian style garments, the nature of the bohemian life has become a cultural norm, and no longerunique and specific to a particular group.Though fashion often embraces boho chic, the life itself - the yearning for individual freedom, therejection of modern materialistic concepts, the dream of utopian ideals, and production of handcrafted goods remains a powerful alternative to mainstream culture.All photographs, unless otherwise noted, from wikimedia commons, creative commons and are in thepublic domain due to age.