A History of the Boho Style

There are few things as romantic as the French, war, and the arts. These three things combined together create one of the most free-flowing fashion trends that have begun to resurface in popularity—the Bohemian style. A bohemian is “a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.” Not surprisingly these people were sometimes referred to as gypsies and began appearing in 1799 in France after the end of the French Revolution. The war caused many artists to fall into poverty, and take up living a nomadic lifestyle. The style which many people cherish today as comfortable and colorful was considered to be unfashionable in the time of its birth. It was not until Romanticism began to peek in Europe in the 1850s that the Boho style began to get any praise, and the artists began to be cherished for their free living culture.

One of the first most popular bohemian artists was Danta Rossetti who was a painter and a poet in the 19 th century. In 1859 he did an oil painting titled Bocca Baciata, which is considered to be an ideal representation of a boho woman of that time. In 1881 the rational dress reform begins, and clothing that is practical along with comfortable begins to take root in Victorian fashion trends. The bloomer suit is born in 1881. In 1896 Giacomo Puccini creates a popular opera titled “La Boheme” that shows young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris. This opera will be remade in 1996 into a bohemian rock musical called “Rent.”

It isn’t until the 20 th century that the hobble skirt, harem pants, and the “lampshade” tunic makes their way onto the fashion scene by French designer Paul Poiret between 1902-1929. Of course what most people really recognize as bohemian fashion is the “gypsy look” which was brought about by Dorothy McNeill and called the “Dorelia Look.” These were when the full skirts and bright colors with little else were born.

World War I soon began and with another war there began an evolution of fashion particularly for women. With all the men going off to battle women had to join the work force, and since corsets are impractical for factory work they began to wear trousers. During the 1920s the flapper fashion became popular but bohemian stayed flourishing with gypsies and travelers. In 1949 the bohemian style briefly turned away from the bright colors when French actress/singer Juilette Greco wore all black and gold sandals.

The 1960s brought about the hippies who majorly shaped the bohemian fashion known and loved today. Much like the original creators of the boho style hippies embraced individuality, and so their outfits ended up being very colorful. The skirts were free flowing, the tunics loose, a lot of the clothes were patched together, and there was mixing of prints and colors. All of this can be seen on Janis Joplin the bohemian icon from 1962-1970, and on Cher during her early career when she began singing with her now ex-husband Sonny Bono in 1964. Other popular boho icons in the 1960s include Stevie Nicks, Twiggy, Steven Tyler, and Jane Birkin.


In the 1970s the women’s liberation movement was in the forefront of the world asking women to be true to themselves. This newfound freedom of second wave feminism was not only found in college classrooms but also clothing started to reflect these ideas.

In the 1990s boho icon Johnny Depp made his way onto the silver screen, and has always been seen as a true bohemian who never conformed. Even today he is seen to be unique in his style. Another popular icon of this fashion at this time was English singer-songwriter Imogen Jennifer Heap . . . in 2003 the boho chic is born which combines bohemian and hippie styles. That same year Bohemian becomes mainstream fashion because of American fashion designer, author, and actress Nicole Richie. Mary-Kate Olsen a child star who turned into a fashion icon was also a big supporter of the bohemian style, but in 2005 several media outlets said that she took it too far with torn baggy jeans, tons of scarves, and having knotty hair. They said her look was not boho chic but instead “homeless chic.” Mary-Kate cleaned up her look since then but continues to dress in the bohemian style. Other icons of the 2000s include Kate Moss, Mischa Barton, and Florence Welch. The boho icon of today, appearing in 2014, is actress, singer/songwriter, model, musician and producer Zooey Deschanel.

It does not appear that the bohemian fashion is going anywhere anytime soon. During the 2016 Fashion Week designers Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, Etro, Alberta Ferretti, and Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini all showed outfits that showed boho inspiration. Any quick look into a fashion magazine will show that bold prints, flowing maxis, flowering dresses, and fringed vests are not anywhere close to going out of style.

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