Posted on September 22, 2016 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments
As we know it today, “boho” usually refers to free-spirited style details—like fringe, airy florals, flouncy skirts, and even some styles of layered jewelry. The term bohemian is also loosely used to refer to someone’s "spirit" or their way of being. A bohemian personality may enjoy going with the flow or may have avant-garde tastes and interestes.
“Boho” or “bohemian” style has surprising origins that have little to do with white lace tanks tops, however. Rather la via bohéminne has its roots among impoverished immigrants, and, later, women’s liberation.
The original Bohemians were émigrés (either travelers or refugees) believed to come from Bohemia--or at least traveled through central Europe to western Europe. (The French word for gypsy is bohémien.)
William Makepeace Thackery popularized the term in his 1848 novel Vanity Fair, and a new idea of bohemianism was quickly adopted by western European artistic and literary circles (as well as their critics). “Bohemian” became synonymous with leading an artistic, nonconformist, and nonconventional life—almost like a vagabond but in a more cultured and culture-shaping way.
During the 1860s, bohemianism was strongly associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of painters headed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Franny Moyle comments in Desperate Romantics:
Rossetti would become the grand prince of bohemianism as his deviations from normal standards became more audacious. And as he became this epitome of the unconventional, his egocentric demands necessarily required his close friends to remodel their own lives around him. His bohemianism was like a web in which others became trapped.
Rossetti's Lady Lilith
We may even have one of the Pre-Raphaelite’s muses to thank for an element of modern boho style. Effie Millais, née Gray, became infamous for her love of wearing flowers in her hair. She is also noted for removing her bonnet in warm weather (!), which was considered a faux pas.
Effie with Foxgloves in Her Hair, John Everett Millais
London’s Bloomsbury Group, a literary group active in the early 20th century, was also associated with avant-garde living. Its members included Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, among other passionate intellectuals, whose bohemian lives were remembered for complex love triangles and progressive politics, ranging from feminism to Communism.
Bohemianism took on practical associations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well. As more women joined the workforce, the need for more functional clothing emerged. The Rational Dress Society (founded in 1881) pushed for simpler women’s garments. By WWI, many women were wearing brassieres, an ergonomic step up from the immobilizing corset. “Trouser suits” (a pantsuit prototype) were also smart replacements for women working in shipyards and other physically demanding environments. Around this time, more “scanty” lingerie made its way to literature and film and was alternately deemed liberating and indecent, leading to a long discussion among film industry leaders about how sexuality would be handled on the big screen. The women’s fashion revolution continued with bobbed hairstyles and menswear-inspired pieces.
Bohemian style took on yet another spin when in post-liberation Paris, female performers and intellectuals, like Juliette Gréco, adopted all-black ensembles. The flowing floral looks (à la Pre-Raphaelite muses) and the minimalist black attire both found a place in the complimentary styles of the beatnik and hippie generation, which were prominent in the 1960s and 70s. Both movements were indeed associated with a nonconformist way of life.
“Luxe grunge,” “boho chic,” and “artisan chic” describe the popular bohemian-inspired styles of the early aughts. These ironically high-end fashions were popularized by the likes of Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, and the Olsen Twins.
Supermodel Kate Moss
Modern Boho Style
If you’re a fan of modern boho style but feel uncertain about wearing a flowing frock, you can incorporate boho-inspired pieces into your wardrobe. Just look for a touch of floral detail or an artfully placed piece of lace, or simply wear a subtle pair of earrings that captures a free-spirit vibe.