Bohemia to Boho
You know those long layered skirts of different fabrics and prints? The kind that twirl out from your legs making you look like a rose blossoming?
Or how about peasant tops made of soft, light linen or jersey that are embroidered with bright fun colors in wonderfully intricate patterns.
These are all hallmarks of the Boho Chic – we've all seen the style before; the tied bands around the head to hold back wind tossed curls; the scarves knotted around the waists, the sandals stubbornly worn in the snow, or the billowing, brilliant, bright skirt.
While a simple enough style to find in numerous retail stores today, who was the original Boho Chic? This style, which emphasizes comfort, ease, and a carefree, natural attitude couldn't have originated on some uniformly stocked department store shelf.
We'll start with the name. “Boho” is short for “Bohemian,” a descriptor for all things originating in the Czech Republic region of Bohemia. The association with the territory comes from a convoluted connection with incorrect assumptions about Gypsies, the origin of the starving artists, and being a social outcast. Many people assumed that gypsies (known as the Roma and thought to have originated somewhere in the north of India and migrated to Europe) were from the Bohemian region. Despite this rumor being false, the name stuck with the Roma fashion and spread throughout Europe being associated with poorer artisans. It worked as a counterculture throughout history, providing options other than the often stiff, formal, and oppressive fashions of traditional European culture.
This counterculture developed especially as the Industrial Revolution fired up and uprooted many long standing traditions of art and culture within society. No longer were the wealthy the only ones capable of supporting the arts and no longer were artists willing to cater exclusively to the capricious whims of the nobility. The fall of the French monarchy also resulted in many artists seeking patronage rather than simply providing commission work. The modern starving artist was born!
This society of talent and creativity fallen on hard times soon coalesced into a movement of their own. Their poverty kept them from joining the upper strata of society but their talents kept them in demand. Thus the Bohemians lived a dual life rejecting the social structures while creating their own society of artists and intellectuals.
Now what does this all have to do with fashion?
The thing is, the way artists were commissioned, and by whom, wasn't the only aspect that changed during this period. The rise of the Romantic Movement led to the cult of the artist and the focus on the creativity, ingenuity, and genius of the artist. This whole concept of the artist as beyond the capacity of the normal man to understand gave them a sort of distinction. Art was something you were born with.
Combine the two, and you have a life that basically consists of selling your persona to your patrons. The artist had to maintain a certain aura of mystery and superiority to that of the fashion à la mode.
And this is how the Hippie was born. While much more recent in terms of historical trends, the hippie movement was born under similar circumstances. A growing unhappiness with the current government, massive changes in industry, and a nostalgia for a simpler lifestyle was fuel to the hippies' passionate fire.
All of these social changes used fashion to shout their beliefs to the world. Clothes often reflect the ideals of the society that wears them. Thus you have the extravagant displays of dresses in the glittering and affluent affair that was Europe during the 1700s and the tightly laced, somber colored corsets of the strict and moralistic later Victorians.
The Bohemians represented the opposite
They wear loose flowing clothes, nonrestrictive, like scarves tied around the waist instead of belts, or layers rather than traditional underwear. Hair is worn down, loose and long (better to flow in the wind). They often have peasant inspired designs: like tunics, boots, wide brimmed hats, and sandals, or ethnic based garments like robes of a Persian or Chinese inspiration. The colors are usually bright and often clash: a way to express harmony in chaos. Recycled clothing is common and many things will be repaired or patched, or simply worn looking. The whole fashion is designed to be chaotic and disorderly. Especially today, organically grown and natural fabrics are quite popular.
Being Bohemian is a way of stating that the superfluous restrictions of society do not apply to you, that you are beyond the rules and orders of others. It is a declaration of independence from consumerism, an ideal to aspire to.
The question, then, is how do you hold to these ideals as the fashion industry mass produces your very personality? As it denies all of your beliefs? All those rants against the confining cult of consumerism and striking out to declare your independence fade to a bland, grey background as popular culture devours your whole atheistic but tosses aside your values and passions and the very reasons behind your fashion. The key is to not be afraid of comparison; to not trouble yourself with others trying to mimic you because while they do it for a passing fad, you do it for a love of who you are.