Boho Chic Throughout the Decades

April 9, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2016

I’m sure you’ve seen it.  We all have.  Sipping your coffee on your daily morning sprint to work or school, you’ve chanced a glance sideways to the park benches lining Madison Square Garden and sitting there without a care in the world is the classic city-bred bohemian chic hipster with her crochet crop top, multi-colored sheer maxi skirt, and countless bangles and neck chains glimmering in the early morning sunlight.  

Over the past couple of years, there has been a nationwide trend seemingly instigated by celebrities, towards a more natural, hippie-like style of dressing.  Loose, flowing fabrics, long hair styled in beach waves, baggy trousers, unusual color combinations, broad-brimmed hats, paisley prints, flowered garments, as well as unmatched jewelry and accessories have become the norm seen throughout notorious fashion districts.

Many people have attributed this influx of fashion go-getters’ complete disregard for uniformity to be a revival of the rainbow-colored, tie-dyed hippie fashions of the 1970s.  However, the boho chic’s resurgence dates back to centuries before the world even knew what peace signs and dreadlocks stood for.  

The original Bohemians of France sprung up all across the country shortly after the artists and skilled craftspeople of the nation became deprived of the former system of patronage, in which the wealthy nobles funded the artisans in exchange for beautiful paintings, sculptures, and pottery to line their abodes and gardens.  The majority of these unfortunate artisans plunged into the depths of poverty, and were forced to adopt a new lifestyle by living cheaply, and donning worn out, unfashionable garbs.

As the European artists broke societal barriers by creating an avant-garde look for themselves as a result of the losses that had come their way, the world viewed them with a fresh, new outlook.  The artist emerged as a completely unique, unconventional individual of society whose artwork was no longer limited to their creations but was rather displayed through their very presence and style of dressing.  

People related the artists’ patchy knickers and dusty robes to the wandering Gypsies who sported a similar style of dress, as it was believed that Gypsies originated in Bohemia (an area occupying the realm of Eastern Europe and the Balkans).  Hence, the artists and intellectuals of the land came to be known as Bohemians.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the French Bohemian artists expanded and adopted new trends fitting to the changing world around them.  The Bohemian style had transformed into a whole new way of life in which the outwardly rugged, unkempt appearance of the nomadic craftspeople was actually a strategically planned mixture of patterns, prints, and cuts intentionally meant to oppose the frilly velvet dresses and petticoats worn by the wealthy citizens.

 The Bohemians represented freedom from society, individual expression, and impenetrable enlightenment.  These born trendsetters resented materialism and restricting themselves to living in within the confines of private property, instead preferring creativity through art and fashion as well as communal living and a life of constant learning and modification.

The values and underlying message born within the French Bohemian culture floated through the decades, resurfacing in modern counterculture styles such as the Beatnik Revolution and Hippie Movement of the twentieth century.  While the Beatniks retained the essence of the Bohemian lifestyle with its ability to rival societal norms, the trademark black turtlenecks and striped clothes were starkly contrasting from the traditional bohemian fashion statement of loose garments and limitless palettes of color donned by the French Bohemian artists.  

However, the hippies and yippies of the 70s brought back bursts of boho style through the colorful tie-dye patterns, flowery prints, and flared, loose fitting pants they threw on while leading peace marches and rallies challenging society to adapt to a new lifestyle of peace, love, and happiness.

Evidently, the bohemian chic fashion trend of the twenty-first century is by no means an entirely foreign concept in the history of our world.  This look has become wildly popular amongst the youth of our generation, many having acquired their inspiration from fashion icons such as Vanessa Hudgens or Nicole Richie who are seen to parade the streets of Hollywood in tribal print parkas and flower headbands.

 The earthy tones, bejeweled sandals, dangly earrings, and chunky bangles worn by the present-day bohemians may not be the exact pieces donned by the forefathers of the boho chic movement.  However, the desire to stand out amongst the Michael Kors handbags, Prada sunglasses, and sleek form-fitting black dresses that spell out fashion in our day and time is much the same as the French Bohemians artists’ manner of freedom of expression through their daily choice of dress.