Bohemian Style Doesn't Mean Ethical Style
I know quite a few people whose personal fashion and style are very bohemian. Bohemian style has been around for over 200 years, and began as an alternative to the 'en vogue' fashions of the period. Boho style is generally seen as wearing loose, colourful clothing, while often incorporating different prints and textures. The Bohemians, who the clothing style is named after, were counter-culturalists in France after the French Revolution. They were people (primarily artists) who found themselves in poverty after the dissolution of the patronage system. Bohemians rejected the bourgeoise lifestyle, and focused on personal displays of art through their clothing choices. Bohemian style thus became a very individualistic, and revealed a lot about their personal and political beliefs. Bohemian life rejected materialism and wealth (with some in poverty who did not have a choice in the matter), and centred around creative expression. Bohemian unfortunately has a history of being used as a derogatory term towards Romani people. Boho style, since its inception, has been recreated and reimagined throughout time to our present. From 60's hippie culture, to boho-chic, a term coined in 2006, bohemian style has always been an ever present staple in society.
Bohemian style, especially in 2017, has people reflecting on its social and political issues. People have walked the line of cultural appropriation (or in many cases, just blatantly have appropriated.) People also use the term g*psy (read this article by Bitch Magazine on why g*psy is a racial slur) to describe this aesthetic. Even when I typed 'bohemian style' in google images, it suggested g*psy, tribal, ethnic, and Native American as other options (yikes.) It's also associated with the music festival Coachella, which also has a slew of problematic issues. With all of these issues, people have also pointed to modern day bohemian style as being antithetical to the origins of Bohemian life. Boho started as a counter-cultural movement, against materialism and societal norms. Now, people pay thousands of dollars to perfect their flowy effortless style. In 2001, David Brooks actually coined the oxymoron of Bourgeois Bohemians, or "Bobos" for this new wave of rich people indulging in bohemian lifestyle.
I think style has been a major part of people defining themselves. I also think style is inherently political, bohemian or not. However, I believe there is a misconception that because boho style looks more handmade, or looks more 'earthy', that it is automatically ethical. This is untrue. Just because your aesthetic is bohemian, doesn't mean you're purchasing ethical clothing. Brands like Free People and Urban Outfitters (who is actually Free People's parent company) have capitalized on bohemian aesthetic (see Project JUST's report here), luring their customers in with Tumblr worthy images, and gauzy dresses, selling an effortless and careless lifestyle. In reality, these corporations exploit their workers, and appropriate from other cultures (hello, lawsuit from The Navajo Nation, and Free People's disgusting 'Festival Shop'). Yet, these two companies are leaders in selling bohemian style under the guise of being an ethical and worldly, and people buy into their narratives. There is nothing ethical about corporations profiting off of marginalized groups.
However, I don't think bohemian style is inherently unethical. I think when bohemian style appropriates from other cultures, or sells clothing made in sweatshops, is when boho style becomes super problematic. I don't think wanting to dress in the aesthetic of the Bohemians that came before us is wrong. Its roots are counter-cultural after all. I think a big rule of thumb when shopping for clothing, bohemian or not, is to ask if you are actively harming someone by buying it. So, if you're after some boho items, consider shopping ethical brands, such as Symbology Clothing, Bead and Reel, or Ten Thousand Villages, so your ethics can match your aesthetics.
- Emilie Maine.