Bohemian Style Tips
Nouveau, Beatniks, Gypsy, Boho Chic. Ah, the allure of bohemian style. We explore both the lifestyle and wardrobe of the starving artist. Delve into the decadence of la vie Boheme with our guide to the roots of bohemianism – and bohemian clothing.
There are two main traits to the bohemian lifestyle: being artsy and being fey. ‘Bohemian’ is the term given to outsiders who like to come together in their shared love of literary and artistic pursuits – and their desire to live rootless and free.
Bohemianism is simply the practice of living an unconventional lifestyle to rebel and challenge the norms of society. The term bohémien was a common term for the Romani people of France, who had reached Western Europe via Bohemia (yes, Bohemia is a real country, not a handy literary myth. Just like Transylvania). To call someone ‘bohemian’ most likely started trending in France, in the early 19th century, when poor artists began to huddle together in the slum areas more commonly associated with Romani gypsies.
Nowadays, one would imagine being referred to as ‘bohemian’ as the highlight of one’s day. Originally, it was very much a derogatory term. Artist? Writer? Unpublished, probably? Poor? Unhealthy and prone to vices? Inclined towards free love? Any and all of these things marked you as a filthy bohemian.
Bohemia – sensory overload and poetry
To truly create a picture of the bohemian, you think of poverty stricken artists, musicians and writers who self-impose solitude and ban materialism for the sake of their art. The original bohemian borrowed the lifestyle from the Romani gypsies of Bohemia with which he or she slummed, drinking rank moonshine and challenging every theory and social convention known to man from religion to politics. Bohemian women were vampy, bohemian men were delusional, and outsiders were horrified at this new revolution. They indulged in free love and hedonism, and created art for arts sake.
Bohemia made it to America in a wave of emigration – France didn’t want its bohemians, and America would take anybody. In America, ‘bohemian’ became more of a political word, linked with dissidents, journalists and ex-priests who fancied having a bit of a cultural revolution – and raw young America was just the place to do it!
Beatniks and gypsies and vagabonds and dandies, oh my
Of course, this sounds nothing like your modern bohemian, considering its described as simply a style, but many still adopt it to their own degree. Boho chic was in a few years ago, and this was more reminiscent of hippies of the 70s rather than bohemians. Long dresses, ethnic bracelets and unkempt hair are the prime examples of this style, going green before everyone actually did go green. You can dress however you like really, because youre paying more attention to your art than your clothes.
To delve deeper into the subcategories, Ill focus on the five most popular bohemian lifestyles. The Bombshell Manual of Style author, Laren Stover, breaks down the Bohemian into five distinct mind-sets/styles in Bohemian Manifesto: a Field Guide to Living on the Edge.
This is the most obvious and modern bohemian that we see today. They combine our modern society with the philosophies of the original bohemians. This is somewhat a challenge because anyone and everyone can be called a poser, but the point is to have your own ideals and be eclectic, even if you do have money. Nouveau bohemains tend to have money to keep out of slums and garrets, but like to dress and act in a freethinking manner.
Nouveau Bohemian Style
- Nouveau Bohemians can afford to follow their style dreams, so each one will look markedly different to the next
- At least one item or element of clothing that will make onlookers think: “That is unique”
- Nouveau bohemian style icons: Lady Gaga and her teacup, Florence and the Machine
This is the travelling bohemian. We all have our image of a gypsy being some old haggard woman whos well versed in witchcraft and always has a caravan and donkey in tow. This is far from the truth, my dears. This is simply a bohemian who lives her life on the road, never staying in the same place for long. She can be quite enticing, so if you fall in love and shes gone in the morning, dont say I didn’t tell you so.
Gypsy Bohemian Style
There are no rules. A wanderlust-bitten traveller would, by the virtue of her gypsy heart, be wearing Gypsy Bohemian Style whether she wore a sarong or sneakers or high heels. But let us go with the style standard:
- Jewelry and accessories to jangle and dangle like a gypsy
- Alternatively, ethnic jewelry – Indian silver, wooden beads
- Long skirts, sarongs
- Layers. Lots of layers…
- Why drape one leather belt round your waist when you can have two?
- Unkempt hair
- Various clothing bits and bobs imported from India, Mexico or Thailand
- Hair possibly in dreadlocks
- Possibly at least one item woven from hemp
- Shapeless bag which stores lots of stuff in it
- Gypsy bohemian style icons: 19th century gypsies, new age travellers, Victorian dancer Isadora Duncan
A drifter, like the Gypsy Bohemian. But whereas the gypsy may well be infused with a romanticised notion of the past – a modern hippy, seeking to return to natural roots – the Beat Bohemian, like the Beatnik, is more focused on an artistic or literary pursuit.
Beat Bohemian Style
- Beatniks like Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady wore clothes they could sleep in and drive in for weeks on end – tee vests, work shirts, hardwearing boots and trousers
- Beat women were more exotic. They looked sexy. Or intellectual. Or sexy and intellectual
- Dark colours and jarring, artistic patterns are to some degree favoured
- Either close-fitting clothes to accentuate the body, or loose-fitting, to hide it
- Holes in clothes most certainly an option
- The tawdry and misrepresentational media stereotype: Berets, bongos, dark glasses, black turtleneck sweaters
- Beat generation style icons: Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Joyce Johnson (had no style and was therefore excellent), Allen Ginsberg (beard optional), Patti Smith
This is the one that we see every now and then, most likely discoursing at leisure about spirituality and new age understanding rather than art. They are just as intellectual, but are the ones who shy away from the craziness of bohemian living. They are somewhat like Beatniks, extremely non-materialistic and opposed to superficial ways of life. They are nourished by thoughts of the world beyond art, however.
Zen Bohemian style
- Seriously – does it matter? Do we honestly have to try to sum up what a Zen Bohemian looks like?
- There is a small chance that you can spot some Zen Bohemians by their loose, plain clothing in natural fibres
- Zen bohemian style icons: Pebbles, rivers and any element from nature. Go on. Dare you to look like a pebble.
Oh, what presumption! The Dandy Bohemian genuinely has no money – or, at least, not enough money to support their lifestyle. The Dandy is utterly dedicated to appearance. It is not enough to sleep with ten women in one night – one must be seen to do so. The Dandy aims to look more wealthy than they are by the collection and idolisation of rarified items. They may buy lobster when they are in debt. They may have their clothes made to measure in Saville Row when they have no roof over their heads. You get the picture.
Dandy Bohemian style
- Labels, preferably ones with old glamour – Biba and such
- Second hand clothes are fine, so long as they long expensive and rakish
- The appearance of wealth is even more important than the clothes fitting correctly
- The resonantly old-fashioned trappings of wealth – pipes, monocles, pocket fob watches, monogrammed handkerchiefs, spats, silk scarfs, opera glasses, capes, canes, top hats
- Expensive brands of alcohol/food/cigarettes
- Dandy Bohemian style icons: David Bowie in his non-Ziggy phase, Quentin Crisp, Vivienne Westwood
So there you have it, dolls! My most basic, non-cryptic explanation of the life of a bohemian. I may possibly post some guides for those who want a bit of direction, but the world is yours. Build it, destroy it, and then put it on a canvas.
Original Beat generation. Unconventional sandals, unconventional sitting on a piano, and – dear God – she’s actually reading
Patti Smith. Beat poet. Patti, we love you.
Zen bohemian? Nouveau bohemian? Gypsy bohemian? Who knows. But that necklace looks pretty expensive.
This gypsy bohemian has the best flag in the world. We will belong to her country just because of her flag! Top notch!
A nice lady thinking bohemian thoughts. We are going to push her off her swing and nick her tree.
Dandy bohemian style, through and through!
Boho chic – the bohemian clothing style invented by the fashion industry
‘The Bohemian’ painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau in 1890. Gipsy clothing style? Representation of a Romani – the original bohémien.
Modern Beat bohemian style