Cultural Influences Behind Bohemian Fashion

February 7, 2010 by K.  
Published in Fashion

A research project on the effects of world cultures on today’s fashion.

Cultural Influences Behind Bohemian Fashion

            Bohemianism is not just a fashion trend, but a lifestyle.  Once associated with French rebels, then 1960’s Hippies, a Bohemian style has always been linked with the radicals of society.  Bohemians have always been on the cutting edge of the artistic, whether in music or fashion.  Today, it is impossible to miss the craze of bohemian style fashion in America.  This style is all over the runways.  However, many people who wear bohemian clothing do not know where this clothing style originated.   Bohemian clothing is influenced by the cultural traditions of many countries.  It is an eclectic style that brings the cultures of the world together.  Even though bohemian clothing is inspired by many cultural traditions, it draws mostly from the Middle Eastern and Native American culture. 

            Bohemian fashion has always been associated with long, flowing and loose fitting dresses, which are no doubt influenced by the Middle Eastern Caftan.  The use of the Caftan shows Orientalism in bohemian fashion.  In her article entitled “Bohemian Rhapsody” written in 2008 Ellen Warren notes that, “This year’s ‘It’ item is the long loungey ankle gazing dress.  If you haven’t noticed them until now, just look around.”(Warren 1).  On a trip to any hip bohemian clothing store such as Urban Outfitters or Anthropology, anyone can see that these dresses are still just as cutting edge as they were a year ago.  Although they are beautiful, they are not original in style.  Individuals from the Middle East have been wearing similar dresses at ceremonies and special occasions for generations.  These dresses are known as Caftans.  As seen in image [1], which is an image from an Islamic clothing website, the traditional Caftan is a flowing, colorful, elaborately decorated and modest ankle length tunic.  They can be seen in a variety of colors but are always modestly covering a person’s body.  Contrasting greatly with the Caftans of the Middle East, today’s designers add a modern sex appeal to these tunics.  Dara Rai writes in her article, “Chic Caftan Craze: Designers; Stylish take on a Cultural Stable”, “High Fashion brand Milly manages to create a breathtaking take on the caftan with this gorgeous periwinkle blue Mykonos tile print top.  Made of luxurious and light-weight Italian silk, this Dominique Sheer Caftan is designed as a swimsuit cover-up” (Rai 73).  It seems the Caftan has been reinterpreted.  It is now made in sheer revealing fabric, and even turned into a stylish looking top.  Image [2] shows the various interpretations of the caftan.  Designers have added revealing necklines and new fabrics, but the obvious inspiration of the original caftans of the Middle East can still be seen. The length and flowing quality of the Middle Eastern caftan has not changed. 

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