Bohemianism: A British Subculture

Impact Style investigates British subcultures and their styles. Jo Grimwood explored Bohemianism, from its roots to its present.


Although the origin of Bohemianism dates back to Ancient times the term was not used until the early 19th century in France. Not long after, it made its way across the English Channel as a name for segregated and indigent artists, writers, journalists, musicians and actors throughout Europe.  The term bohemian, or “bohemien” in French, came from the word Bohemia, the name of a town in the Czech Republic largely inhabited by Gypsies. In Modern usage, the term Bohemian refers to person who lives their life defying convention, with little permanence.

jeffrey watts gypsy muse

The style of bohemianism came about around the same time that the term did. Women who usually fell into the category of being a bohemian, defied social convention by moving away from the typical corset that most women of the time wore underneath their gowns. Into the 20th century, more women gained their independence from men and were no longer willing to conform to the uncomfortable fashion of being suffocated in highly structured, rigid material, laced up almost too tight to breath. This trend exploded when women were called to work in customarily male dominated jobs whilst men fought in both World Wars.

Although Bohemianism formerly held many negative connotations, it is now increasingly popular within the world of fashion. On the runways today, Bohemianism is closely associated with loose-fitting, unstructured, flowing clothing: close to the common style of gypsies from which its name originates. Floral patterns and earthly colours also tend to be connected to the term. As Bohemian was formerly used as a name for the creatively inclined the style of Bohemianism also has certain aspects of Romanticism. This means that this style is also associated with more delicate colours, fabrics and patterns.


For some clothing retailers such as Free People, their brand has been built on beautifully Bohemian designs. However, fast fashion retailers, such as Zara and Topshop, only pass such clothing with a Bohemian vibe as ‘in’, when it comes back into the repertoire of top fashion designers in the cyclical way that it has in the past.


The Spring/Summer 2015 brought an array of Bohemian influenced designs in both high street and designer stores. This followed Marchesas interpretation of modernistic Bohemian which featured rich colours, 3-Dimnsional florals and loosely fitted waists. Just a word of warning: if Anna Sui, Jill Stuart and Temperley have anything to do with it, Boho Chic will be a style hot off the rails this Autumn/ Winter too.

indigital anna sui


Jo Grimwood

Image credits: indigital,,,, Jeffrey Watts, Henry Diltz/Corbis,

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