Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Bohemian Fashion (or rather, the lack thereof)


   Cafe Culture

   Daily Life







La Boheme
London 1900's
Beat Culture
Hippie Culture

Works Cited

The Bohemians devoted a lot of their time to undermining mainstream culture. This meant sitting all day in a cafe and buying only one cup of coffee or setting up an easel and nude model right inside the cafe, and it also meant showing defiance through dress and manner. Bohemian Fashion is something of a contradiction in terms, because usually the bohemians dressed themselves in whatever they could scrounge up.

However, as Hanna Manchin discusses in her essay, "The Grisette as the Female Bohemian," the bohemians turned their poverty into a statement and made it powerful. "Their irreverence for bourgeois norms was partly due to necessity, but it was the meaning that they made of their situation that made them subversive." The bohemians were always known for being dressed in out-of-date styles or unfashionable colors, "but they did not understand this as shameful" (Manchin).

A fine example of the absurdity of bohemian fashion can be found in the opening passages of Henry Murger's Scenes de la Vie de Boheme. As the story opens, we are introduced to the vibrant Schaunard, a poor musician living in the Latin Quarter of Paris. He awakens with a jolt, and what follows gives us a good idea of the blatant disregard Bohemians had for fashion and "high culture:"

"To protect himself against the biting north-wind, Schaunard slipped on in haste a pink satin petticoat with spangled stars, which served him for dressing-gown. This gay garment had been left at the artist's lodging, one masked-ball night, by a foile, who was fool enough to let herself be entrapped by the deceitful promises of Schaunard..."

from chapter 1, "How the Bohemian Club was Formed"

The image at left is a drawing by Thackeray, and to it he adds: "Painters are the only persons who can decently appear in dressing-gowns; but these are none of your easy morning-gowns; they are commonly of splendid stuff, and put on by the artist in order to render himself remarkable and splendid in the eyes of his sitter" (Thackerayana 444).

Schaunard continues to prepare for his day, and it is hard not to fall in love with such a jovial, silly character:

"He was preparing to put on an overcoat, originally of a long-haired, woolly fabric, but now completely bald from age, when suddenly, as if bitten by a tarantula, he began to execute around the room a polka of his own composition, which at the public balls had often caused him to be honoured with the particular attention of the police." (still ch. 1)

Schaunard is not the only Bohemian with a blatant disregard for fashion. The 'Battle' of Hernani also gave the bohemians a chance to showcase their scorn for bourgeois ideals. They arrived at the event, as Hugo recollected, "wild whimsical characters, bearded, long-haired, dressed in every fashion but the reigning one, in pea-jackets, in Spanish cloaks, in waistcoats a la Robespierre, in Henry III bonnets, carrying on their heads and backs articles of costume from every century and clime, and this in the middle of Paris and in broad daylight" (Easton 53).