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The History of Modern Bohemian Style Clothing

Bohemian style clothing is everywhere today, and with good reason! Not only is it fashionable, it’s comfortable. It can be purchased at a wide variety of price points, it can be dressed up or down, and many boho brands care about the environment, which means many pieces are made out of natural fibers and constructed in sustainable ways.

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking bohemian style clothing is just clothing. There is a long history behind those peasant tops, flowing maxi dresses, and flared jeans.

The Cultural History of Bohemians

The true cultural history of the original Bohemians goes back hundreds of years and begins when Bohemia was part of Greater Moravia, which eventually became the Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia.

Centuries ago, the Romani people traveled from India through Europe, they passed through Bohemia, and ended up in France in the 15th and 16th centuries. Although not true Bohemians, they were labeled as such because they passed through the area. Technically Romani Gypsies, the label “Bohemian” followed them as they continued traveling. Today, the terms “Gypsy” and “Bohemian” are often used interchangeably, even though they are technically two distinct cultures.

This history is extremely detailed and complicated, involving multiple empires, rulers, and elected officials—too much to do justice to the topic in a single fashion article. To learn a little bit more, you can read about the history from the Bohemians at Bohemian Caravans.

Much of bohemian style clothing has roots in this rich, deep history. The Romani Gypsies and Bohemians of centuries past wore unconventional clothing for the times. As they were always on the move and money came and went quickly, an eclectic style developed that is at the root of bohemian style clothing today.

The Beginning of Modern-Day Bohemian Style

Although the original Bohemians were once part of an ethnic group, and some people from that area of Czechia can technically still be referred to as bohemians, when you hear people casually bringing up bohemian style clothing, they are not referring to the history of the original bohemians or Romani Gypsies. Instead, modern-day bohemian style has most of its roots in the French Revolution.

Beginning at the end of the 18th century when the modern use of the term "Bohemian" was first used, artists and creatives were struggling. Many people in France during that time were finding it hard to make ends meet, and so it became the norm to wear used clothing. As things slowly returned back to normal, artists continued showcasing their eccentric ways by layering used clothing to create an eclectic style that reminded people of the time of Gypsies, who as we discussed earlier, were often referred to as Bohemians. Just as the Romani Gypsies were labeled bohemian, so too were the artists and creatives during this time.

The term "Bohemian" became synonymous with creativity and artistic expression. Although the thrifting lifestyle began out of necessity, it soon became a way for artists to express themselves, regardless of how much money they had.

It wasn’t long before the Romantics became entangled with the French Bohemians, and even more people were wearing flowing skirts, colorful materials, distressed fabrics, and layered jewelry.

Bohemian Style and Lifestyle

Modern bohemian style is unique and can stand on its own as a fashion statement, but it’s important to note that a certain lifestyle often accompanies the bohemian look. Once again, this attitude, lifestyle, and outlook on life begins with the Romani Gypsies who valued freedom of movement and unconventional ways of living all those centuries ago.

The French Bohemians dressed in a very bohemian way, but they also often deviated from society's expectations. The fashion may have been born out of a need for affordable clothing, but it evolved as a way to disregard social constructs, mainstream style, and conventions. Although less complicated, style during and after the French Revolution still featured long, voluminous skirts, stylish hats, and high-quality fabrics, like silk. It would have been quite shocking to come across someone wearing bohemian garb at the time!

With fashion that’s all about going against the grain, it's no surprise that the Bohemians were right at home during the Aesthetic Movement in the 1800's. This movement was all about appreciating the visual and sensual qualities of art and design, even at the expense of moral and practical considerations. They supported softer, flowing garments, more like what was worn during medieval times rather than the artificial corsetry of the time.

Because it was and still is as much a lifestyle as it is a fashion, bohemian clothing isn’t just for women. Male artists at the time, as well as today, often wear bohemian fashions.

Bohemian Style into the 20th Century

Both the bohemian look and the bohemian lifestyle survived into the 20th century. As the counterculture became more and more well-known, writers like Henri Murger, composers like Puccini, and others began dedicating some of their works to the Bohemians. This continued into the 20th century with people like Paul Poiret and William Morris who created designs and patterns that would be right at home in bohemian fashion today.

Arguably the most famous and well-known era associated with bohemian fashion is the hippie era of the 1960's. This counterculture was also very much against conventional lifestyles. Hippies stood against materialism and for free love, and their clothing showed it. Just as the French Bohemians before them, the Hippies chose fashion that went against the grain, wearing ethnic clothing, mixed prints, and over-the-top fringe while the rest of society was wearing polished, preppy silhouettes.

It is important to note that the hippie movement has political roots. Their attire was a statement against the establishment, promoting unisex attire, unity, and harmony. Bohemian fashion on the other hand was all about aesthetics. It celebrates femininity among women, and in the 21st century, it enables men to celebrate their feminine side as well.

Bohemian Style Clothing Today

From the original Romani Gypsy Bohemians to the French Bohemians and the Hippies of the 60’s, there are many types of bohemian style, enabling the fashion-conscious of the 21st century to choose the perfect look.

Thrifting items is still part of bohemian fashion, but its aesthetic is so popular that designers are creating boho garments, giving it an elevated look.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What does boho chic mean?” This version of bohemian style was solidified in the early 2000's with fashions worn by Sienna Miller, Nicole Richie, and the Olsen twins. Dresses, tops, and accessories are increasingly being thoughtfully designed and created out of high-quality materials that look right at home on the runway as well as any art festival. With the popularity of festivals like Burning Man and Coachella, bohemian fashion has solidified itself in modern culture and is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.

Modern bohemian style continues to evolve, making it accessible to anyone. Items can just as easily be thrifted as they can be purchased new from popular designers. Long flowing maxi dresses and kimono dusters make this style accessible for those who are a little more body conscious, while those who like to show some skin can wear crop tops and distressed jean shorts. If you’re feeling feminine, opt for a floral skirt, while those with an edge are sure to appreciate a vintage band tee and snakeskin booties. Men are increasingly getting into bohemian fashion by wearing distressed leather jackets, layered jewelry, and floral prints.

Boho style continues to be a way to push against societal norms an pressures, so don’t be afraid to get creative and step outside your comfort zone. Not only are you wearing a piece of fashion you love, you’re honoring the timeworn traditions of the Bohemians who came before.

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