The Meaning of Bohemian Then and Now
Posted on March 23 2016
They are called free spirits, drop outs, wanderers, and nonconformists because of their unconventional way of life. They are urged to design a kind of living that doesn’t bow down to societal norms as they believe in a deeper sense of freedom, truth, and self-expression. Mostly artists and writers, Bohemians are the creative types who mold their life in the beauty and liberating spontaneity of art. Armed with their intellect and spiritual purpose, dressed in lax clothing and boho bags, they live in a whole new world apart from the nine-to-fivers.
Anybody can be a Bohemian nowadays, but a century ago when everyone was forced to conform, it was a movement that changed the course of history. Let’s take a look back to how it all started. What does Bohemian really mean? And where did the idea come from?
Before there were carefree bands of girls in floral ensemble adorned with leather fringe purses or boho gypsy bags, the term “bohemian” was christened by the French referring to the Romani gypsies who they believed have arrived from Bohemia in central Europe. They’re seen as outsiders disconnected with society, and they don’t really care if they’re viewed as such. They rove with an esoteric enlightenment peppered with little care on fidelity and hygiene.
Literary bohemianism was formed in Paris in the 1850’s. Much like the views of the Romani people, Bohemian artists and poets believed in living apart from the orthodox and middle class. Some of them were also anarchists or were part of the Franco-Prussian war. Because of their belief that art and literature should be revolutionary, they stood against the foundation who manipulated the arts in France, the Salon. The movement faded after a few decades, but was revived by the beatnik generation later on.
The Bohemian lifestyle became a worldwide movement and had spread to many countries since then.
The True Essence of Bohemian
Beneath the never-fading Bohemian fashion strewn of baggy dresses, leather boots, boho bags, fringe purses, and harem pants, Bohemia is deeper.
“To take the world as one finds it, the bad with the good, making the best of the present moment—to laugh at Fortune alike whether she be generous or unkind—to spend freely when one has money, and to hope gaily when one has none—to fleet the time carelessly, living for love and art—this is the temper and spirit of the modern Bohemian in his outward and visible aspect.
What, then, is it that makes this mystical empire of Bohemia unique, and what is the charm of its mental fairyland? It is this: there are no roads in all Bohemia! One must choose and find one’s own path, be one’s own self, live one’s own life.” - Gelett Burgess, The Romance of the Commonplace
Virginia Nicholson, the author of “Among the Bohemians” and great-niece of Virginia Woolf, saw the same quintessence in today’s bohos.
"In a sense the environment movement could be seen as today's bohemians. There's that sense of sacrifice, there's that sense of purity, there's that sense of a burning mission, of giving up things."
With the boom of music festivals and boho-chic fashion through flower crowns and boho bags, the core stays the same. Bohemians nowadays do their own thing unbothered by what is deemed orthodox by society. May it be artistic, literary, musical, adventurous, or other alternative pursuits, Bohemians keep the fire alive.