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for being dressed in out-of-date styles or unfashionable colors,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:"
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..."
1, "How the Bohemian Club was Formed"
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
continues to prepare for his day, and it is hard not to fall
in love with such a jovial, silly character:
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.
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