This post tells the history of the Bohemian Style from being the fashion of a counterculture living in poverty to an accepted luxurious personal style. The post presents the look’s roots, its development over the centuries, key elements and how to get the look.
- Bohemian style definition
- Bohemian has its roots in the 18th century France
- The Romantic Era of the 19th century
- Bohemian finds its way into mainstream fashion
- The Hippie Era
- Modern Bohemian Style from Poverty to Luxury
- Key elements of modern Bohemian Style
- Favorite accessories
- Typical footwear
- Where to shop for Boho style
- What are the best colors for Boho look
- How to have Bohemian Style
- Influencers with Bohemian Style
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Bohemian style definition
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, non-conform. 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. Used as an adjective, the word describes s.th. as being typical for Bohemia.
Bohemian 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 bad socio-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, the public called them the bohèmes, which is French for an unconventional, non-conform person. Once the political and cultural situation improved, the artists kept their eccentric looks. This means they now purposely expressed their individuality and group identity through their clothing.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 Europe, wars and revolutions were fought with the goal of democracy. 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 instability, people desired peace and retreated to romantic ideas. It’s this time, from which many of the key elements of the Romantic Style are taken or at least inspired.
Concurrently, the Romantic epoch started in art, writing and cultural life. People from the mainstream started to associate the romantic and 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 anti bourgeois, destitute ideas. Think of Carl Spitzweg‘s oil painting The Poor Poet (1838). The poet’s sleeping cap relates to the Jacobean or liberty cap of the French Revolution. It symbolized the republican resistance. More on the history of hat style at the link.
The romantic intellectuals also wore colorful, often orient-inspired clothing. They accessorized with elements of medieval or nomadic gypsy origin. The gypsies lived in Bohemia, a region on the East European Balkan. Therefore, 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 great developments in the production of dye allowed for colorful attire.
The globalization and improved possibilities of mobility (e.g. hitch rides) permitted traveling and inclusion of ethnic dresses and embroideries (see this guide for styling embroidery) 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 its roots in the American Civil War. During that time, women crafted quilted blankets from old clothes and/or left-over fabric for the soldiers.
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 in 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. In other words
From poverty to Luxury.
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The look itself is now an (accepted) alternative to the traditional way of dressing as a personal style preference. This style is even work-appropriate as long as you don’t have to dress in corporate style at the office 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 capriciously way. Key materials are lace, crochet, suede, leather, wood, rattan, denim, silver, gold, turquoise, coral, amber. Key patterns are ethnic-inspired like lattice, ikat, tribal, folklore as well as floral and paisley prints. Furthermore, ornamental repetitive Middle East inspired pattern are part of the style. Embroidery, beads, mirrors, lace, gold-color paint and fringes often serve for embellishment. More on looking ageless in the Global Trend.
Don’t let your 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 the book now.
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. Furthermore, crochet or cable-knit sweaters, vests and cardigans are essential style elements. Other typical clothes are peasant blouses, button-down prairie camisoles, dip-dyed or tie-dyed (more on the history of dyeing) tanks and T-shirts as well as beaded, embroidered or mirror embellished 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-hemmed, 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, slouchy 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. Just look up what to wear when in How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy my book now.
Where to shop for Boho style
Today, a wide variety of Boho clothing and accessory lines exist. Examples are Anthropologie, Free People, Island Style or Wendy Mignot. You may also be lucky to find great peasant skirts and shirts as well as Boho dresses at Fashom (mention it in your style profile) and Leafy Souls. The cheapest option for clothes – except second hand – is H&M. A great source for shearlings, leather jackets and vests (with and without fringes) is LeatherCoatsEtc.
Great places to search for jewelry and vintage clothing are flea-markets, second hand stores (thrift stores), and any tribal markets worldwide.
What are the best colors for a Boho look?
Neural earth-inspired colors like warm browns, and muted blues. Fashion colors for accents are muted warm reds, and muted yellows and warm muted pinks. Black, navy and dark brown are on the deep end of the colors.
How to have Bohemian Style
Use the key elements and layer. The goal is to try to create a relaxed gypsy look. Recall this look bases on the poor (read vintage, second hand), Hippies (distressed, ripped, tie dye, ethnic pieces, long hair) and traveling gypsies (colorful clothes, mixed origin, jewelry). Try
- fitted bralette or corset over flowing shirt or vice versa
- T-shirt, vest, long cardigan
- underskirt under a skirt
- dress over pants
- plaid shirt over paisley or ethnic print dress
Influencers with Bohemian Style
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 Your Style Story,
- Samantha of Fake Fabulous,
- Patty of Not Dead Yet Style,
- Shauna of Chic Over 50,
- Rhoda of Southern Hospitality,
just to mention a few.
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Döbler, Hannsferdiand, 1972. Kultur- und Sittengeschichte der Welt. Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, Gütersloh, Germany.
Robinson, Julian, Calvery, Gracie, 2015. The fine art of fashion illustrations. Frances Lincoln, Limited, London, UK.
Young, Carolin, 2016. Style Tribes. Frances Lincoln, Limited, London, UK.
Recent photos of me: G. Kramm
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