Here is something I believe:
Bohemian-ism isn’t a style. You can’t ‘become’ a bohemian merely by dressing like one.
You’re either born bohemian or you’re not. You can LOOK like a bohemian…but bohemian-ISM isn’t something that goes in or out of fashion. Bohemians have existed since the dawn of time…they just didn’t get a name until the 19th century. To ‘be’ a bohemian means a lot of things, and these things haven’t changed in the last 5 or 50 or even 500 years. I’ll do my best to explain those things in just a bit.
(As a side note, the ‘name’ came from the roving Romani people the French called Bohémiens because they were believed to have arrived from Bohemia).
About a half dozen years ago (give or take), a new fashion trend was sweeping the United States like wildfire. It was dubbed ‘Coachella’ (some called it ‘festival’) style, after a famous music and art event that had its start in 1999 (the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California). The fringed, bangled, tattooed (even if temporary), bejeweled and avant-garde styles that emerged were characterized with words like “gypsy”, “bohemian” and “hippie” – three very different archetypes lumped together like adjectives to describe the nouveau free-spirited look. Fashion magazines, online blogs and and social media outlets like Instagram and Pinterest were covered in boho-esque photos as women embraced the wild, artistic, anti-bourgeois look.
Boutiques (like mine) popped up all over the place, selling flowing skirts and billowy blouses in bright, patchwork colors. Cropped, fringed and beaded tops flew off the racks. Torn, frayed and worn denim jeans were stacked a mile high on store shelves. Hats and headbands were ‘must-have’ items. Jewelry was layered like a mille-feulle cake on crack.
Suddenly, nearly everyone was a “bohemian”. Hooray! High fives all around!
That’s not exactly how it works. I don’t mean to sound like a snobbish Zingara, but there is a certain creed to ‘bohemianism’…a manifesto of sorts. If you don’t live by the creed of bohemians worldwide, then you really can’t claim to be one.
Here’s a simple set of questions I’ve put together to determine if you’re a bona fide Bohemian, or if you’re just a ‘trending’ bohemian (which isn’t really bohemian at all). In my opinion (and in my experience), bohemians are bohemians from the time dad’s sperm penetrated mom’s egg and the little bohemian zygote was created.
So let me ask you:
- Do you like new things? If you do, you’re probably not a bohemian. Bohemians invented repurposing, reusing and recycling.
- Is having or saving money important to you? Bohemians generally don’t think much about money…they’re too busy thinking about politics, art, poetry and philosophy. Having money is only important to bohemians if they run out of liquor, books, coffee, sketchpads or paintbrushes.
- Have you ever written a personal manifesto, poem or novel? Bohemians write like they breathe. If they don’t have paper, you’ll find them scribbling notes on cafe napkins…or the backs of their arms.
- Are you knowledgeable in history? If not, you’re not a bohemian.
- If you enjoy watching television, you are not a bohemian. Movies (especially foreign and independent films) and documentaries are one thing, but network and cable programs are… NYET.
- Are you a fastidious housekeeper? If so, you’re not a bohemian.
- Do you travel…a LOT? Bohemians travel whether they have money or not. Travel is imperative to 99% of all bohemians. If you aren’t traveling, planning your next trip, or just arriving home, you’re not a bohemian.
- Can you quote Kerouac, Ginsberg, Baudelaire, Woolf, Parrish, Nin or Hemingway? If you can’t, or you haven’t read at least one or two books by each of these authors, you are not a bohemian.
- Do you shop at chain or big box stores? If you do, you are not a bohemian. If you eat fast food on a regular basis you are not a bohemian. If you subscribe to capitalism in any form you are not a bohemian.
- Do you think war is a necessary evil? If so, you’re not a bohemian.
- If you’ve never experimented with drugs, you’re not a bohemian. Bohemians will usually try anything (usually natural substances, like mushrooms, weed, peyote) at least once.
- Do you need to stick to a schedule? If so, you’re not a bohemian.
- Do you have fake nails, fake breasts or hair plugs? If so, you’e not a bohemian.
- Do you adhere strongly to one religion? If so, you’re not a bohemian.
So there you have it. It’s not an exhaustive list of questions (and examples), but it covers the basics.
I am a bohemian…and always have been. Every decade of my life. For example:
0-9: When I was about four years old, I remember going to the fabric store with my grandmother. She had to drag me away from the velvets and brocades, because they were not practical for school clothing. This distressed me quite a lot, because I wanted a VELVET romper. If I could have said “fuck polyester” back then, I’m sure I would have. Bohemians are attracted to anything with texture, color or shine.
Lime green velvet, antique silver and gemstones are VERY bohemian things.
When I was about 8 or 9 I started writing poems and short stories. I became obsessed with reading and writing from a very early age, and I loved art almost as much as the written word. I wrote and drew all over myself, all the time. My parents had to fork out a lot of cash on paper to try and dissuade me from using my skin as a canvass or notebook. I was spanked over and over again for doing it, but it didn’t stop me. Bohemians are stubborn in their convictions. My skin, my prerogative.
Essentials from my library.
10-19: I fell in love with theater and dance around the age of 14. I was in every school play and my bedroom was decorated in vibrant oranges, greens and yellows and my walls were covered with framed copies of “Playbill”. I made a macrame planter and stuck a goldfish bowl in it, complete with goldfish. While other kids were going to parties on weekends, I would lay in bed, painting (watercolor) until 3 or 4 a.m. I embroidered on my jeans. I started reading the Kama Sutra and blending my own perfumes from essential oils. I made all my prom dresses.
That’s me on the left, age 19, with fellow bohemians Mike and Biff (Judy).
When I went to college, I studied journalism, French and dance. I starved for two weeks so I could use my grocery money to purchase my first pair of Capezios. I ate with chopsticks and my hands more than I used silverware. I had Mucha posters all over my dorm room. I took a year away from college to hitchhike and backpack my way around the states after my sophomore year.
20-29: I became a journalist and started smoking Djarums. I studied communism, socialism and all the other political isms. I got married, but continued to do theater and dance until I had children. I grew a garden, and allowed my kids to forage, naked, through the vegetable patch. I let them dress themselves most of the time. I made out with a few very attractive (to me) women, just for the fun of it.
30-39: I got divorced and remarried. My maid of honor was my best guy friend, and my wedding dress was Betsy Johnson made from raspberry-colored crushed velvet. I went back to college for a degree in interior design/architecture. I started a company and designed furniture and did commercial and high-end residential interiors. I published a zine. I made costumes for my kids for their talent shows. I taught set design to middle schoolers for six years. I traveled a lot. I took my son to Europe when he turned 15. My daughter and I took a train to New York City (from Seattle) to shop for school clothes.
An interior sketch…I designed the table with the lead glass base (to fill the room with rainbows in the morning) and mohair covered chairs.
40-49: I got divorced for the second time. I started smoking Djarums again. I moved across the country to my hometown in a red state (imagine that) and started writing professionally again. I made perfumes. I dated a couple of tortured alcoholics. I drank too much myself. I still made art all the time, and I passed out Anais Nin’s ‘Delta of Venus’ to all my girlfriends. I reveled (and still do) in being ‘shocking’ in conservative Oklahoma. Since moving here my life often feels like a Cole Porter song.
One of my art boxes.
Now I’m in my 50’s, and not much has changed…except that I don’t date tortured alcoholics anymore, and I rarely get drunk. An old bohemian knows when to start taking care of the vehicle. I write and make things…constantly. I dress how I want to dress, and I live a very unconventional life. I swear a lot. I wear bindi. I stopped smoking Djarums for the same reason I quit drinking in excess. I practice yoga and meditation and make my own incense. I belly dance. I’m writing a history/design/lifestyle book. I’m learning to play the ukulele. I believe you’re never too old for another tattoo. I own a bohemian boutique in the East Village in Tulsa. I practice magic.
And I blog about being a bohemian. For real.