What is Bohemian Subculture?
Bohemian subculture or bohemianism is a social and cultural movement prioritizing intellectual, artistic, and spiritual pursuits over career paths and acquiring wealth.
Bohemian subculture encapsulates people’s conscious choice of communal living, non-conformity, and a life free from society’s conventional norms and expectations.
Bohemians disregard financial pursuit over an appreciation of art and literature, free-thinking and love, creativity, and artistic expression.
In their quest for freedom and artistic expression, Bohemians question traditional societal structures and the current status quo.
What is the Origin of Bohemian Subculture?
The word ‘Bohème’ earliest usage was to describe the Romani people of France (traveling gypsies), presumed to have arrived in France in the 15th century from Bohemia (the western part of the current Czech Republic).
In the 19th century, the term La Bohème was used to describe artists, writers, actors, musicians, and journalists who led unconventional, even impoverished lives outside society.
Living in urban areas in close-knit communities that fostered a vibrant, creative, and non-conformist lifestyle, ‘Bohemians’ rejected worldly pursuits in favor of lives dedicated to art, creativity, and intellectual achievements.
United by their rejection of bourgeois values and defined by a unique aesthetic and look, this community comprised artists and writers who became influential contributors to the cultural and artistic landscape of the time.
Who Are the Bohemians?
While Bohemianism has its roots in 19th-century France, individuals who identify as Bohemians and live according to the subculture’s values live worldwide.
As a group, Bohemians are defined by their shared ethos for an artistic, simple life rather than demographic characteristics like location, sex, or age.
Regardless of age, gender, or location, Bohemians live unconventional lifestyles characterized by pursuing artistic and intellectual freedom, disregarding material wealth, and a preference for individualistic self-expression.
Yet, there’s also an economically privileged class of Bohemians, part of the aristocratic bohemian circle, referred to as haute bohème – in direct translation, “Upper Bohemian.”
With a propensity for progressive thinking and cultural diversity, they embody a spirit of nonconformity and openness to varied experiences.
Bohemian Values, Activities, and Lifestyle
As a subculture, Bohemian represents a rich tapestry of ideals and practices emphasizing personal freedom, artistic expression, and intellectual exploration.
The values and aesthetics of the Bohemian subculture are voluntary poverty, frugality, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual freedom, and in some cases, van dwelling.
Bohemians value self-expression and freedom (personal and creative), nonconformity, open-mindedness, and an appreciation for art, beauty, and experiences over material possessions.
Bohemians also prioritize creative or intellectual pursuits over traditional career paths, opting for alternative living arrangements (like communal living or nomadism) and rejecting the pursuit of material wealth.
Bohemians prioritize creativity and are at the forefront of arts, literature, music, and theater.
One great example is Charles Baudelaire’s evocative poetry, which embodies this aspect of Bohemianism.
Disregard for Material Wealth
Bohemians value personal experiences and relationships over acquiring wealth or material possessions.
Henry David Thoreau’s life of simplicity depicted in “Walden” epitomizes this powerful Bohemian view.
Bohemians have a unique aesthetic look in their clothing style, home decor, and art.
Iris Apfel is a fashion icon world-renowned for her distinctive and unconventional Bohemian dressing style.
Bohemians prioritize personal freedom while questioning current societal values.
Virginia Woolf‘s work and life around women’s societal roles perfectly exemplify Bohemian’s free-thinking intellectual orientation.
Bohemians reject existing societal structures, preferring lifestyle choices that might seem unconventional to the general public.
Jack Kerouac’s free-spirited lifestyle – an American novelist and icon of the Beat Generation – is an excellent example of Bohemians’ views towards conventional norms.
Bohemians are constantly drawing inspiration from previous cultures and historical periods.
Influenced by African art and classicism, Pablo Picasso’s painting style is a case in point.
Bohemians participate in movements that support values and aesthetics related to the Bohemian creed.
With members like Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey, the Bloomsbury Group in London was the home of Boho writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and artists in the first half of the 20th century.
Bohemian Fashion and Way of Dressing
Much like the culture it stems from, the Bohemian dressing style aims to showcase the rejection of societal norms and a desire to express individuality and creativity.
Over time, the Boho fashion style has incorporated influences from various periods, cultures, and art movements, translating into an eclectic mix.
The 1830’s and French Bohemian Art Crowd
The French Bohemian art crowd and Romantics of the 1830s greatly impacted the looks of the early Bohemians.
Early Bomenians had long flowing hair and embraced colorful oriental clothing styles combined with wide-brimmed hats that resembled the aesthetic associated with the Romani people.
The novels of Henri Murger highlighted the lives of early Bohemians, whose threadbare coats and old shoes spoke to their disregard for material wealth.
The Aesthetic Movement and Bohemians in the 19th Century
The Aesthetic Movement in the 19th Century also impacted the Bohemian lifestyle, rebelling against the Victorian era’s strict social and stylistic constraints.
The Pre-Raphaelite artists, an integral part of the Bohemian movement, also rejected the restrictive clothing of Victorian fashion, such as corsets and crinolines.
Early Bohemian Aesthetics opposed the dehumanizing mass production of the Industrial Revolution, emphasizing artisanal styles of Middle Ages and Oriental designs.
The most popular Bohemian outfits in the 19th Century comprised loose, soft clothing made from organically dyed fabrics and decorated with hand embroidery.
The 20th Century and the Influence of the Hippie Bohemian Style
In the 20th Century, the Bohemian fashion style was influenced by the Hippie Movement, which incorporated historical and ethnic style clothes of oriental design into Western clothing styles.
The fashion designers of this era breathed new life into Bohemian fashion style by combining aesthetic elements from various cultures and periods.
Over time, the introduction of Bohemian aesthetic elements into high fashion styles eventually bled into mainstream fashion.
Modern Bohemian or Boho-Chic Style
Nowadays, the Bohemian fashion style is referred to as “Boho-Chic,” a look incorporating aesthetic elements from the subculture’s roots and infused with contemporary trends.
This modern interpretation of the Bohemian fashion style includes several different variations:
- Peasant Girl Boho-Chic is characterized by long, flowing skirts made from lightweight natural materials and soft colors. Accessories include headbands and hair clips adorned with flowers, clothing items made with lace and embroidery, and peasant-style tops.
- Rugged Boho-Chic combines well-worn and tattered denim shorts, pants, and skirts with brightly colored tunic tops and feminine cowboy boots.
- Luxe Boho-Chic incorporates elements of high fashion with traditional Bohemian aesthetics, resulting in an overall polished look that maintains uniqueness and creativity.
- Hippie Boho-Chic borrows aesthetic elements from the 1970s hippie movements in an artistic and unconventional look. The style includes vintage items, fringe, floppy hats, brightly colored skirts, and wide-legged cotton pants.
With loose clothes, multilayered, and made from natural materials, the Boho Chic fashion style includes and showcases the Bohemian subculture’s freedom of movement and natural fabrics.
It’s essential to remember that the Boho Chic style, much like Bohemian culture, disregards traditional fashion norms, individual expression, and a sense of freedom.
Important Bohemian Places, Figures, and Moments
Historically, notable Bohemians have included figures such as the French poet Charles Baudelaire, the American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe, and members of the Bloomsbury Group, such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster.
The Bohemian ethos continues influencing people of all backgrounds, from artists and musicians to travelers and digital nomads.
Important Bohemian Places
While Paris, France, is credited with the origin of Bohemianism, the subculture has roots in other places around the world and is associated with several key cities.
Notable Bohemian enclaves have included Montmartre in Paris, Greenwich Village in New York City, and Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.
- Paris, France – Paris is the birthplace of Bohemian subculture, particularly the café shops and artistic salons in Montmartre and Latin Quarter districts. These hubs attracted artists, musicians, writers, and free thinkers from all over the world.
- London, England – In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, London became another critical hub of the Bohemian subculture, particularly in the neighborhoods of Chelsea and Soho. The Bloomsbury Group, a collective of influential writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and artists, exemplified the Bohemian lifestyle in the early 20th century.
- Greenwich Village, New York City, USA – In the early to mid-20th century, Greenwich Village became known as America’s Bohemia, attracting artists, writers, and intellectuals. The Village was also the center of the Beat movement in the 1950s, which carried on and developed the Bohemian ethos.
- San Francisco, USA – Influenced by Bohemian values, the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco was the epicenter of the counterculture and hippie movement of the 1960s.
- Berlin, Germany – During the Weimar Republic in the 20th century, parts of Berlin became known for attracting intellectuals, artists, and musicians, fostering the Bohemian ethos.
Some of the most influential contributors to the development of the Bohemian subculture were not hailed as “Bohemians” during their lifetimes as they belonged to different historical periods and cultural contexts.
Yet, these people are associated with Bohemianism in a retrospective sense, as their lives and works reflect the ideals of individualism, artistic and intellectual pursuit, and disregard for societal norms.
- Charles Baudelaire (French Poet) – As an essential figure in symbolist poetry, Baudelaire’s works explored themes of beauty, decadence, and eroticism. Baudelaire lifestyle was characterized by a disregard for societal norms, prioritization of art over practical matters, and exploration of exotic and taboo subjects — all vital elements of the Bohemian subculture. His volume of poetry, “Les Fleurs du Mal” (The Flowers of Evil), was widely influential in spreading the Bohemian ethos and remained a seminal work in French literature.
- Arthur Rimbaud (French Poet) – A visionary poet and adventurer, Rimbaud embodies the Bohemian spirit of rebellion and nonconformity. Rimbaud’s unique creations, unconventional lifestyle, and nomadic adventures make him a quintessential Bohemian.
- Oscar Wilde (Irish Writer) – penned in a rare wit and flamboyance, Wilde’s creations critiqued societal norms. The authors’ relaxed lifestyle was considered scandalous by the standards of Victorian England and remained an embodiment of individual freedom and Bohemian ideals.
- Pablo Picasso (Spanish Painter) – As a co-founder of the Cubist movement and a significant figure in Surrealism, Picasso pushed the boundaries of art in unprecedented ways. Picasso’s embrace of nonconformity and creative freedom and his interest in worldwide cultural influences mark him as an influential figure in Bohemian culture.
- Henry David Thoreau (American Writer and Philosopher) – Although Thoreau predates the Bohemian movement, his ideals and lifestyle have much in common with Bohemian values. His book “Walden,” detailing his simple life in the woods and promoting self-reliance and introspection, is a cornerstone of individualistic and anti-materialistic thought.
- Allen Ginsberg (American Poet) – a leading figure in the Beat Generation of post-WWII America, Ginsberg’s work reflected nonconformity, free-thinking, and spiritual exploration. His famous poem “Howl” is a vehement critique of societal norms and a declaration of personal and creative freedom.
- Virginia Woolf (English Writer) – A member of the Bloomsbury Group, Woolf embodies Bohemian values in her life and work. Woolf challenged gender societal norms, and her experimental novels pushed the boundaries of literary form.
- Bob Dylan (American Musician) – Steeped in the countercultural movements of the 1960s, Dylan’s music became a rallying call for personal freedom, peace, and social change. The musician’s unique blend of folk, rock, and poetic lyricism reflects the Bohemian values of inventiveness and nonconformity.
- Patti Smith (American Singer-Songwriter) – Also known as the “godmother of punk,” A genuine spirit of rebellion, freedom, and intellectual exploration marks Smith’s work. Her memoir “Just Kids,” detailing her youthful years in New York’s Bohemian counterculture, provides a firsthand look at modern Bohemian life.
- Frida Kahlo (Mexican Painter) – Known for her surreal and symbolic works, Kahlo defied norms in her art and personal life. Her exploration of identity, gender, class, and race in her work aligns with the Bohemian values of introspection, nonconformity, and social critique.
Each of these individuals played a pivotal role in promoting and embodying the values of the Bohemian ethos, significantly impacting the subculture in different ways.
Their legacy lies in their creative outputs and lived embodiment of the Bohemian lifestyle, leaving an indelible influence on future generations of Bohemians.
Living lives that rejected societal norms and pushed the boundaries of creativity provided a template for others seeking to live similarly.
Their works, full of nonconformity, introspection, and social critique, remain essential touchstones within the Bohemian subculture.
Essential Bohemian Movies, Books, and Series
Over the years, several films, books, and television series captured and presented the unconventional world of Bohemian lifestyle and culture.
These masterpieces capture the essence of the Bohemian lifestyle, subculture, evolution, and its continuing influence today.
From exploring the ‘vie de bohème’ in the backstreets of Paris to journeying with rebellious spirits across the American frontier, these works offer us windows into the Bohemian ethos.
These films, books, and series each portray Bohemian life, showcasing different aspects of Bohemian values, lifestyle, and aesthetics, providing a varied and layered understanding of the subculture.
Popular Bohemian Movies
- “La Vie de Bohème” (1992) – directed by Aki Kaurismäki, this French film is a modern interpretation of the 19th-century novel “Scènes de la vie de bohème,” offering a dark yet humorous portrayal of the bohemian lifestyle.
- “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) – a Baz Luhrmann film renowned for depicting the bohemian ethos – “truth, beauty, freedom, and love” – set in the bohemian underworld of late 19th-century Paris.
- “Midnight in Paris” (2011) – a Woody Allen film that explores nostalgia for the “golden age” of 1920s Paris, showcasing various figures from the Bohemian literary scene of the era.
- “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) – a biographical film about Freddie Mercury, frontman of the band Queen, who was known for his flamboyant stage presence and boundary-pushing music.
- “Into the Wild” (2007) – based on Jon Krakauer’s book, the film follows the journey of Christopher McCandless, who rejects societal expectations to embark on a nomadic lifestyle in the wild.
Key Bohemian Books
- “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac – a seminal work of the Beat Generation, the novel is based on Kerouac’s travels with his friends and epitomizes the spirit of rebellion and restlessness, critical tenets of Bohemianism.
- “Just Kids” by Patti Smith – Smith provides a firsthand account of bohemian life in 1970s New York City in this memoir, documenting her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.
- “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller – Miller’s semi-autobiographical novel, set in Bohemian Paris in the early 20th century, celebrates personal freedom, artistic expression, and nonconformity.
Main Bohemian TV Series
- “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (2017-present) – the series is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s and features a young woman breaking societal norms to become a stand-up comedian, embodying the spirit of nonconformity.
- “Mad Men” (2007-2015) – not overtly about bohemians, the series explores the countercultural movements of the 1960s, providing a backdrop of the era’s shifting norms and values. Joy, the main character, is a wealthy, free-spirited bohemian nomad who lives in a resort in Los Angeles.
Largest Bohemian Communities Online
- Instagram: Instagram is home to various influencers, creators, and enthusiasts who showcase Bohemian lifestyle, fashion, and decor. Popular hashtags include #Bohemian, #BohoChic, #BohoStyle, or #BohoHome.
- Pinterest: This platform allows users to collect and share ideas about various topics. Searching for “Bohemian” or similar keywords can lead to many boards dedicated to Bohemian lifestyle, fashion, and interior design ideas.
- Reddit: Several subreddits cater to people interested in Bohemian lifestyles. r/BohoHomes, r/bohemian, and r/vanlife, among others, cater to those interested in Bohemian culture.
- Facebook Groups: Facebook hosts numerous groups for people interested in Bohemian culture. Searching “Bohemian” within Facebook’s group feature finds several groups dedicated to Bohemian fashion, interior design, or lifestyle.
- Boho Beautiful Community: An online community built around a YouTube channel focusing on traveling, yoga, and vegan food while embracing the Bohemian lifestyle.
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Championing sustainability and veganism from Sao Paulo to London, Ana Alves is a dynamic force in the fashion and beauty industry. With a decade-long writing career, Ana's compelling narratives on sustainable fashion have graced the pages of Forbes, Wired, Vanity Fair, and more. Ana's journey spans key roles at Unilever and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, where she honed her marketing acumen. As an Editorial Contributor at WTVOX and Fashion & Style Editor at The VOU, Ana shapes the discourse on sustainable fashion.