Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Bohemian Clothing and Style

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Puppyism and pretence, then as now, will always demand a uniform *

The Romantic Army's Uniform

At the beginning of the bohemianism counter-culture, clothes were an exceedingly important factor, used to set apart the artists and the writers from the bourgeois. No where was this more evident than at the opening of Victor Hugo's Hernani. One could spot styles of clothes from every century, and hairstyles of every length. Hugo's own wife, Adele described visible in the crowd, every fashion but the fashionable.

Author Theophile Gautier is often cited as one of the most flamboyantly dressed at this occasion as he'd convinced his tailor to make him a costume that was as far from fashionable as could be imaginable:

Especially for Hugo's new play, Gautier asked that his tailor make "a pair of pale sea-green trousers embellished at the seams with black velvet stripes, an ample gray coat faced in green satin, and a ribbon of mottled silk to preform the services more conventionally rendered by collar and tie... He commanded the tailor to construct a doublet of Renaissance cut, laced in back and rising ot the neck, made in silk of a blinding Chinese vermilion." All of these items were woefully out of style, either by time, or by never having been in style in the first place. As for choosing the bright red doublet, he thought that the bourgeois had had enough of gray, and as an artist, wanted to reintroduce 'vermilion' to the world.

The caricature at the right shows that even though Gautier did not flaunt society by wearing a beard, he did so by wearing his hair to his waist. His hat and coat do not match his contemporaries' fashions.

 

Click on the image to see an artist's depiction of what Guatier might have looked like during the battle of Hernani.

 

 
 Theophile Gautier (1811-1872)
A member of Hugo's romantic army.
From a page on Gautier.

 

...the champions of the ideal, the defenders of free art; and they were handsome, young and free. Yes, they had hair... they had lots of it falling in brilliant and pliant curls...

 

 Opening night at Hugo's Hernani. (Miller 23)

 

Gautier describes Hugo's romantic army to be as out of fashion as himself. This was a way for the young artists and students to separate themselves from the stodgy bourgeois who had been mocking Hugo's play from even before its opening night.

One had dressed himself in the black velvet doublet and close-fitting pantaloons of a mediaeval archer; another in the coat of a member of the National Convention, together with a soft, pointed hat of the most delicate design; and yet another combined a dandified frock-coat of exaggerated cut with a ruff of the period of Henry IV. The remaining details of their costume were all equally contradictory, so that they gave the impression of having been picking about at random among the old clothes of centuries, from which they had fished out something that, somehow or other, made up a complete wardrobe.

Dress really was only affected for the reaction it received from the bourgeois. By Murger's time, the members of the bourgeois had taken a different stance to the oddly dressed bohemians, looking at them only briefly, nodding to themselves that he was a student, perhaps an artist, and that after all, one was only young once. After this point, Murger and his peers did not often wear the odd clothes.

 

*historian Malcolm Easton in Artists and Writers in Paris.