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The Bohemian Style: Exploring Unconventional Fashion and Lifestyle

Image: Young Bohémienne: Natalie Clifford Barney (1875-1972) at the age of 10 (painting by Carolus-Duran) The Bohemian style, also known as Boho chic, is a fashion and lifestyle choice that embodies an unconventional and free-spirited...

Young Bohémienne: Natalie Clifford Barney Image: Young Bohémienne: Natalie Clifford Barney (1875-1972) at the age of 10 (painting by Carolus-Duran)

The Bohemian style, also known as Boho chic, is a fashion and lifestyle choice that embodies an unconventional and free-spirited essence. It is a style that has evolved over time, drawing inspiration from different cultural movements and historical influences. While its origins are debated, the Bohemian style is believed to have been influenced by the nomadic lifestyle of the Romani people during the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

The term "Bohemian" itself is derived from the French "Bohémien," which was originally associated with the Roma community due to a historical misconception that they originated from Bohemia, a region in the Czech Republic. Throughout history, Bohemian fashion has undergone significant transformations, reflecting the cultural shifts and influences of each era.

Today, the contemporary Bohemian style embraces flowing fabrics, vibrant colors, and natural, woven materials. It draws inspiration from various sources, including counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s, reminiscent of the attire worn by attendees of the inaugural Woodstock music festival.

The appeal of the Bohemian style has spread globally, attracting individuals seeking a unique and individualistic approach to fashion and lifestyle. It encourages a sense of freedom and self-expression, often appealing to those who prefer to live unconventionally and embrace a nomadic way of life, fostering a strong sense of community.

Early 19th Century and the Role of Women

In the early 19th century, the Bohemian subculture was closely affiliated with predominantly male artists and intellectuals. However, women also played a significant role within the movement. The presence of "grisettes," young women who combined part-time prostitution with various other occupations, contributed to the Bohemian artistic and cultural scene in Paris. These women worked as artist models and provided both inspiration and support to male artists.

Grisettes have been mentioned as early as 1730, and they became a common character in French fiction, particularly during the time of King Louis-Philippe. They epitomized flirtatiousness and intellectual aspirations. The most enduring and famous portrayal of a grisette is Mimi in Henri Murger's novel "Scènes de la vie de Bohème," which later became the basis for Puccini's opera "La bohème."


The late 19th century saw the rise of the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of artists and aesthetes associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This movement, led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, embraced a return to the detailed and vibrant aesthetics of medieval and early Renaissance art.

The Pre-Raphaelites were known for their rejection of industrialization and their embrace of nature, beauty, and romanticism. Their style often featured picturesque landscapes, medieval themes, and elaborate clothing.

The influence of the Pre-Raphaelites can still be seen today, as their iconic imagery has been revived and incorporated into modern Bohemian fashion and design.

Rational Dress and the Women's Movement

By the turn of the 20th century, women were increasingly seeking to live outside the traditional parameters of society. This was reflected in their dress, with movements like the Rational Dress Society advocating for clothing that was both practical and comfortable.

The Rational Dress Society, founded in 1881, promoted clothing that allowed for greater freedom of movement and rejected restrictive corsets and other impractical garments. This movement was closely tied to the emerging women's rights movement, and women began to seek employment and independence outside of traditional domestic roles.

The First World War further accelerated changes in women's fashion, as many women took on roles traditionally held by men. Trousers became more common, and the brassiere began to replace the corset. These changes in fashion reflected the shifting roles and aspirations of women during this period.

Swinging London

In the 1960s, London became the epicenter of cultural and fashion movements that embraced Bohemian ideals. The city saw the rise of the Beatles and the "Swinging London" scene, which captured the spirit of youth rebellion and counterculture. This era was marked by a fusion of styles, mixing Victorian influences with vibrant colors and unconventional fashion choices.

The influence of the Pre-Raphaelites was evident in the fashion of this time, with women embracing flowing fabrics, romantic patterns, and loose, bohemian silhouettes. The hippie movement, which emerged in the late 1960s, further embraced these Bohemian ideals, emphasizing individuality, peace, and freedom.

In the decades that followed, Bohemian fashion continued to evolve and inspire, with subsequent generations of artists, musicians, and fashion designers incorporating its elements into their work. The resilience and enduring appeal of the Bohemian style reflect its timeless aesthetic and its ability to capture the spirit of rebellion, creativity, and individuality.