Bohemian Style

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Bohemian Style


In modern use, the term "Bohemian" is applied to people who live unconventional, usually artistic, lives. The adherents of the "Bloomsbury Group", which formed around the Stephen sisters, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf in the early 20th century, are among the best-known examples. The original "Bohemians" were travelers or refugees from central Europe.

Reflecting on the fashion style of "boho-chic" in the early years of the 21st century, the Sunday Times thought it ironic that "fashionable girls wore ruffly floral skirts in the hope of looking bohemian, nomadic, spirited and non-bourgeois", whereas "gypsy girls themselves ... are sexy and delightful precisely because they do not give a hoot for fashion". By contrast, in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th, aspects of Bohemian fashion reflected the lifestyle itself.

The bohemian sub-culture has been closely connected with predominantly male artists and intellectuals. The female counterparts have been closely connected with the so called Grisettes, young women who combined part-time prostitution with various other occupations. In the first quarter of the 19th century, the term Grisette also came to refer more specifically to the independent young women. These, often working as seamstresses or milliner's assistants as well frequented bohemian artistic and cultural venues in Paris. Many grisettes worked as artist's models, often providing sexual favors to the artists in addition to posing for them. During the time of King Louis-Philippe they came to dominate the bohemian modelling scene.

By the turn of the 20th century, an increasing number of professional women, notably in America, were attempting to live outside the traditional parameters of society. Between 1870 and 1910 the marriage rate among educated women in the United States fell to 60% (30% lower than the national average), while, by 1893, in the state of Massachusetts alone, some 300,000 women were earning their own living in nearly 300 occupations.

By this time, such movements as the Rational Dress Society (1881), with which the Morrises and Georgiana Burne-Jones were involved, were beginning to exercise some influence on women's dress, although the pre-Raphaelite look was still considered "advanced" in the late years of the 19th century. Queen Victoria's precocious daughter Princess Louise, an accomplished painter and artist who mixed in bohemian circles, was sympathetic to rational dress and to the developing women's movement generally (although her rumored pregnancy at the age of 18 was said to have been disguised by tight corsetry). However, it was not really until the First World War that "many working women ... embarked on a revolution in fashion that greatly reduced the weight and restrictions imposed on them by their clothing". Some women working in factories wore trousers and the brassiere (invented in 1889 by the feminist Herminie Cadolle and patented in America by Mary Phelps Jacob in 1914) began gradually to supersede the corset. In shipyards "trouser suits" (the term, "pantsuit" was adopted in America in the 1920s) were virtually essential to enable women to shin up and down ladders. Music hall artists also helped to push the boundaries of fashion; these included Vesta Tilley, whose daring adoption on stage of well-tailored male dress not only had an influence on men's attire, but also foreshadowed to an extent styles adopted by some women in the inter-war period. It was widely understood that Tilley sought additional authenticity by wearing male underclothing, although off stage she was much more conventional in both her dress and general outlook.

Journalist Bob Stanley remarked that "the late 1960s are never entirely out of fashion, they just need a fresh angle to make them de jour". Thus, the features of hippie fashion re-emerged at various stages during the ensuing forty years.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, variants of the short and fundamentally un-Bohemian rah-rah skirt (which originated with cheerleaders) were combined with leather or denim to create a look with some Bohemian or even gothic features (for example, by the singing duo Strawberry Switchblade who took inspiration from 1970s punk fashion). In the 1990s the term, "hippie chic", was applied to Tom Ford’s collections for the Italian house of Gucci. These drew on, among other influences, the style, popular in retrospect, of Talitha Getty (died 1971), actress wife of John Paul Getty and step-granddaughter of Dorelia McNeil, who was represented most famously in a photograph of her and her husband taken by Patrick Lichfield in Marrakesh, Morocco in 1969. Recalling the influx of hippies into Marrakesh in 1968, Richard Neville, then editor of Oz, wrote that "the dapper drifters in embroidered skirts and cowboy boots were so delighted by the bright satin '50s underwear favored by the matrons of Marrakesh that they wore them outside their denims à la Madonna [the singer] twenty-five years later".

In the early 21st century, "boho-chic" was associated initially with supermodel Kate Moss and then, as a highly popular style in 2004-5, with actress Sienna Miller. In America similar styles were sometimes referred to as "bobo-" or "ashcan chic", or "luxe grunge", their leading proponents including actresses Mary-Kate Olsen and Zooey Deschanel. As if to illustrate the cyclical nature of fashion, by the end of the noughties strong pre-Raphaelite traits were notable in, among others, singer Florence Welch, model Karen Elson and designer Anna Sui.

In Germany, terms like Bionade-Bourgeoisie, Bionade-Biedermeier or Biohème refer to former Bohemians that gained a sort of Cultural hegemony with their LOHA lifestyle. The phenomen of such former (young) bohemians becoming establishment during the years is a typical aspect of gentrification processes. A Bon mot of Michael Rutschky claims that end of the 20th century, ''not the Proletariat, but the Bohème became the ruling class''. The group in question uses especially food as means of distinction and separation.

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