Bohemian clothing has come a long way since the mid 1850s, where signs of radical change were first evident. In the 21st century also woman’s clothing is largely influenced by Bohemianism.
We’re all familiar with the term ‘hippies’, who followed in the footsteps of earlier bohemians by proclaiming strong beliefs associated with love, peace, and non-violence. Bohemianism is a practice where supporters are usually artistic, offbeat individuals, like musicians, artists, writers, actors, and the like.
They had a political or social outlook that strongly opposed acts of violence, where holding rallies and protests to spread their messages of love and brotherhood, were a common sight in the past. Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Grateful Dead, and Courtney Love, were just some of the many supporters of bohemianism.
Freedom from Restricted Apparels
The first sign of renouncing commonplace woman’s fashion, was seen during the pre-Raphaelite movement where women abandoned crinolines and corsets. Designer Barbara Hulanicki of Biba, was the first to showcase dresses that were limp and shapeless, set up in a store that echoed an Edwardian theme. This marked the beginning of what women were going to experience as freedom from constricting attire, to a more intrepid, unabashed style of dressing.
Evolution of Bohemian Clothing for Women
Development and changes invarious styles of bohemianism were seen over the centuries and to present-day also it is evolving. The characteristics of the clothing changed drastically, going from demure and angelic, to nonconformist and fashionable.
Rational Dress Society (Freedom / Rational Dress)
The women of this society vehemently disregarded wearing dresses that were stifling, or a hindrance to movement. This is what the society laid down as part of the new dress code, snuffing what the Victorian Era represented in their deformed, highly restricted sense of dressing.
“The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms. It protests against crinolines or crinolettes of any kind as ugly and deforming. It requires all to be dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully, to seek what conduces to birth, comfort and beauty in our dress as a duty to ourselves and each other.” – Rational Dress Society Doctrine
The name of this style is supposedly named after Dorothy ‘Dorelia’ McNeill, second wife of painter Augustus John. She was seen on many occasions wearing vibrant, cascading skirts where the only piece of jewelry she wore, were dangly silver earrings. It was a significant moment in bohemian fashion for women, as it made way for the gypsy look.
Gypsies were Romani people who migrated from the northwestern Indian subcontinent, before settling in the Balkans and certain parts of Eastern Europe. Their lineage is said to have Egyptian-esque roots since the word ‘gypsy’ has a linguistic reference to Egypt. The term gypsy is given to them not as a minority name, but for their lifestyle and unusual dressing sense.
Rustic Interpretations and Androgyny
In the year 1944 post the liberation of Paris, women were increasingly bohemian in their style of dressing with showy peasant skirts, and gaudy earrings. Juliette Gréco (singer) was second to Effie Gray (wife of pre-Raphaelite John Millais) to put flowers in her hair as an ornament, bringing to light the early outset of the ‘flower power’ movement (mid 1960s).
Like Gréco, bohemians too wore flowers in their hair. She was an avid supported of the Bohemian culture, immersing in political and philosophical beliefs of bohemianism. While bohemians wore colorful garb, wearing black was a prevalent post-war trend. She wore it as a mark of poverty (as a teen), still exuding similar bohemian traits as she aged.
Women started to wear their hair shorter, sporting male-dominant clothes like tailored suits and pullovers. Bobbed hair was a stark bohemian feature, with many students in Paris parading this masculine hairstyle. The distinction between the sexes was a blur for those who witnessed the turnaround beliefs of women sexuality.
The ‘New Look’
The ‘New Look’ line was designed by luxury designer Christian Dior in 1947, and was seen as a novel introduction to woman’s fashion post World War II. While it wasn’t welcomed positively by the bohemians because of its old-fashioned feminine detailing, Paris on the other hand regained its title as fashion capital of the world, partly because of the New Look line.
The bra came to be regarded as a symbol of liberation, with the term ‘bra burning’ associated with the feminist movement. While there weren’t any actual bras burnt, the coinage was made by the media in reference to the ‘draft-card burning’ incident – it was done by those who weren’t in support of the US troops participating in the Vietnam War, rallying against the government and those who believed otherwise.
Madonna became the Fashion icon
Madonna is known for turning the bra into a fashion icon instead, using it in music videos and stage performances as a symbol of raw sexuality and audaciousness. The conical bra corset that she wore during her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour, sold for a staggering $52,000 at an auction in London in 2012; it was designed by haute couture designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier.
During the mid to late 1980s, women wore leather or denim outfits, combined with flared mini skirts. It was a coalescence of goth and bohemian influences, where designers were influenced by the rising trend of hippie chic during the 1990s. Women were seen comfortably clad in masculine accessories and clothing, like boots and denim / leather pants, with the look finished off with goth makeup. This was an age of punk, retro fashion that marked the culmination of the bohemian culture.
Bohemianism is still prevalent in modern-day fashion, with both men and women wearing modern yet old-school renditions of this style. Fashions houses under Erica Tanov, John Malkovich, Max Azria, Derek Lam, and Gimmo Etro, to name a few, have all used bohemian themes in their collections.