Bohemian style definition
What is Bohemian Style in fashion?
Bohemian style refers to an alternative fashion and counterculture with a specific ideology that differs from the tradition and mainstream trends of a given time. The term Bohemian goes back to the French word bohème which translates to unconventional, nonconform. It is used to describe a writer, artist, lifestyle or way of dressing. On the contrary, the French word Bohémien(ne) refers to a person (as a noun) from Bohemia or describes s.th. as being (adjective) typical for Bohemia.
Boheminan has its roots in the 18th centrury France
Like with many style tribes fashion, art, music and political positions are intervened. Contrary to common believe the roots of Bohemian style reach back to the end of the 18th century. During the French Revolution, artists and writers let a life of poverty. One way to cope with their soci-economic situation was wearing used, old clothing. The public associated artists of all kind with idleness, living a outside of social norms and tradition. Thus, they called them the bohèmes, which is French for an unconventional, nonconform person.
As the political and cultural situation improved, these creatives expressed their individuality and group identity through their clothing in eccentric and creative ways.Fashion has to reflect who you are, what you feel at the moment, where you're going. – Pharrell Williams #quote Click To Tweet
The Romantic Era of the 19th century
In European wars and revolutions were fought with the goal of demoncracy. In 1848, the movement failed. Many of those who wanted democracy left Europe to immigrate to North America (when possible). After more than 60 years of political unstability, people desired peace and retreated to romantic ideas.
Concurrently, the Romantic epoch started in art, writing and cultural life. People from the mainstream started to assocciate the romantic, often eccentric intellectuals of the era with the French bohèmes.
Both groups wore flowy garments, peasant-like shirts and old clothes with distressed fabrics and antibourgeois, destitute ideas. Think of Carl Sptizweg‘s oil painting The Poor Poet (1838). The poet’s sleeping cap relates to the Jacobin or liberty cap of the French Revolution was that symbolized republican resistance.
The romantic intellectuals also wore colorful, often orient-inspired. They accessorized with elements of medieval or nomadic gypsy origin. Since the gypies lived in Bohemia, a region on the East European Balkan, the counterculture of arts, creativity and disregard to social norms and aesthetics got the term bohémien.
Bohemian finds its way into mainstream fashion
In the 20th century, designers like Paul Poiret and William Morris included various Russian and Middle Eastern ethnic and intricate, highly ornamental (lush floral prints, paisley, swirls) elements into their fashions, respectively.
The Hippie Era
In the 1960s, the Bohemian Movement became closely related to the Hippie / Flower Power culture. The Hippies rejected the conventional lifestyle, social constructs, materialism, established institutions, the politics of the time and the Vietnam War.
The globalization and improved possibilities of mobility (e.g. hitch rides) permitted traveling and inclusion of ethnic dresses and embroideries as well as jewelry. Since the new movement had its origins in North America, fringes, beading, turquoise jewelry and mixed prints as well as wide dresses joined the Bohemian style choices. The former three elements have their origin in Native American tradition while the latter goes back to the dresses of the pioneer times. The previous to last addition has roots in the American Civil War when women crafted quilted blankets from old clothes and/or left-over fabric for the soldiers.
The great developments in the production of dye allowed for more colorful attire.
Like the French Bohemians the Hippies were poor and often wore old, distressed clothes. Their fashion opposed the mainstream polished, classic tailored silhouettes of the time.
Style icons of that time were Jane Birkin, Jade Jaeger and Ali McGraw, just to mention a few. Today Judi Dench comes into mind.
Modern Bohemian Style
Like so often in fashion history, the clothes of the counterculture entered mainstream. The original lifestyle and political ideology (poor, opposition to the traditional values) has gotten lost or at least has been diluted. The once effortless, comfortable, cheap, creative mismatch of fashion elements from various epochs and cultures turned into a curated, relaxed, (often expensive,) well-defined, identifiable style.
Today, a wide variety of Boho clothing and accessory lines exist (e.g. Anthropologie, Free People, Island Style, Wendy Mignot). You may also be lucky to find great peasant skirts and shirts as well as Boho dresses at eShakti, Fashom (mention it in your style profile) and Leafy Souls. A great source for shearlings, leather jackets and vests (with and without fringes) is LeatherCoatsEtc.
The look itself is now an (accepted) alternative to the traditional way of dressing and a personal style preference as long as you don’t work in corporate life or go to a job interview. This fashion choice may or may not come with a more liberated lifestyle and world view.
Key elements of modern Bohemian Style
As pointed out above, Bohemian is all about wearing rich items in a capriously way. Key materials are lace, crochet, suede, leather, wood, rattan, denim, silver, gold, turquoise, coral, amber. Key patterns are ethnic-inspired like paisley, ikat, tribal, folklore as well as floral and lattice prints. Furthermore, ornamental repeatitive Middle East inspired pattern are part of the style. Embroidery, beads, mirrors, lace, gold-color paint and fringes often serve for embellishment.
Key pieces are low rise frayed jeans, corduroys and patch pocket flared jeans, delicate dresses and tunics with floral, paisley, ethnic or ornament prints, peasant and tired (often crinkled) skirts, crochet or cable-knit sweaters, vests and cardigans, peasant blouses, button-down prairie camisoles, dip-dyed tanks and T-shirts, beaded, embroidered or mirror embelished boleros. Often pieces are in maxi length like a maxi double-breasted coat, maxi-skirts and floor-length dresses. Dresses and tops often have an empire waist. Sleeves are blousy, flatter style, ruffle-hemed, puffy or embroidered. A denim jacket, favorably in a natural looking wash is a Must-have.
Accessories reach from ornament-like jewelry, hammered cuffs, feather cuffs, wood bangles, over-size semi-precious gemstone rings often with raw stones, teardrop earrings, coin, wood and beaded necklaces, rough leather messenger or saddle bags, sloughy velvet evening bags, ethnic fabric hobo bags and totes and head bands. Jewelry is often from India or of American Native origin including Alaska jewelry.
Footwear includes shearling ankle boots, flat strappy tan leather sandals or gladiators, flat Mary Janes in satin or denim or crochet heels. Clogs, wood-wedges and espadrilles are further options. The 70s style block heel tan boots are winter favorites.
Don’t let the right outfit be a random thing. Wear the right look in every situation by looking up what to wear when in How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy my book now.
There are many influencers on instagram an in the blogosphere who don their interpretation of the look. Some of my personal favorite bloggers donning the look are Debbie of Fashion Fairy Dust, Samantha of Fake Fabulous, Patty of Not Dead Yet Style, Shauna of Chic Over 50, Rhoda of Southern Hospitality.
Like the photos? If so, please feel free to pin them to your own Pinterest board.
Join the High Latitude Style tribe
Are you registered for my Newsletter to let you know about new posts, how tos and special style subjects? I’d highly appreciate it if you take the time to sign up and ask your friends to sign up too!!
Recent photos of me: G. Kramm
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post. You don’t pay more when you purchase a product through my link. These links just make it easier for you to find something, and I get a few cents when you purchase it. I so appreciate your support of High Latitude Style. Thank you!
© 2013-2019 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved