How Does “Boho-Chic” Still Exist?
And what exactly is it?
Things change only if you let them, and nothing demonstrates that better than boho-chic. Bohemian chic, you’ll likely remember, was that early-2000s trend borrowing liberally from ’60s hippie influences, translated into mall-friendly designs by way of Sienna Miller and Mary-Kate Olsen. It was gauzy, white skirts, embroidered tunics, studded belts, endless layers, structureless purses, and maybe a pair of Uggs to top it off. It’s also never fully disappeared. It seems that Australian style writer Laura Demasi was one of the first people to acknowledge the trend in 2002. She wrote a piece called “The boho bandwagon” with the subhed “Call it gypsy, ethnic or peasant, but the eclectic look of the moment is more than a passing fashion fad.” Demasi describes purchasing a floral chiffon top (“gypsy girl meets peasant princess with a hippie edge”).
Now, it is 2017 and, just last month, an article on Cosmopolitan.com was titled “What Does Boho Mean? Your definitive guide to summer’s hottest trend.” It starts: “The term ‘boho’ gets thrown around a lot these days … but what exactly does it mean?” It was a moment that made me wonder if women’s lifestyle media was playing a little joke on all of us. What does boho mean? Hadn’t we addressed that back in 2002–2006 and also every year since then? Boho, in what is perhaps a great joke or a statement on our collective attention span, is mysteriously heralded as a new trend each year, without fail.
There are, of course, one million search results for boho. Sienna Miller debuted her “sexy boho” look at Glastonbury in 2004. By 2012, Miller was (understandably) quoted as hating the word ‘boho’ so much now” and last month in April, having swallowed her pride, described an outfit as “glamorous and bohemian.” A Whitney Biennial was even described as having a boho vibe in 2008. According to another article, Kate Moss brought it back in 2015. Here’s a 2016 Refinery29 piece letting us know that boho is OK after all (too little, too late?).
I hit a puzzling wall trying to explain boho to a number of people. “It’s Mary-Kate Olsen holding a Starbucks cup and a big bag,” I tried, “but it’s also like patchwork skirts you used to buy at American Eagle.” It occurred to me that the style is now so ubiquitous, it seems to have lost its meaning as a clearly defined trend. Boho has evolved into Coachella, but it’s also the terrain of girls you went to high school with who pair those gauzy, white skirts with boots and shirts emblazoned with Live, Laugh, Football.
Boho in the mid-2000s said Ibiza, Starbucks, and the Olsen Twins. Mary-Kate, in particular, bore the brunt of boho’s mockery. Though a mostly favorable piece, a 2005 New York Times article referred to her look as a “homeless masquerade.” She was routinely slammed in celebrity magazine Fashion Police sections with disparaging bag lady remarks, as if it were some sort of offense to swaddle yourself in a few extra dang layers. The early 2000s were the halcyon days of celebrities not needing the Instagram veneer required now, which is what makes that not-at-all-distant era feel like a very long time ago. It’s not so much that celebrities necessarily have to conform more now, it’s just that they have to look more like shiny Range Rovers. Even though pulling off the boho-chic lifestyle came from a place that required privilege on multiple levels, it was still a pretty fun time to be a celebrity.
“I think what made the boho trend so unique is that it was mostly ignited by the it-girls themselves, rather than by designers,” @PopCultureDiedin2009, expert archivist of the salad days of early 2000s celebrity culture, tells me. “Sienna, Kate, Mischa, and Mary-Kate seemed to inspire, rather than be inspired, and it really dictated the fashion landscape of that era. Whereas today’s it-girls like Kendall, Gigi, and the rest of that crew desperately conform to what they believe is in, the it-girls of the aughts just wore whatever caught their eye … that’s what made their style so fun to watch.”
Boho was not only the first trend I was aware of, it was the first trend I participated in. Oversized sunglasses, roomy, caramel-colored bags from Target, ill-fitting, wide-legged trousers from Urban Outfitters were all things I proudly wore. I was an exacting teenager with a reserved yet sunny disposition who eschewed rebellious phases; boho suited me. For this reason, it holds a special nostalgia. It reminds me of the last time I read magazines, sitting in the Starbucks inside an icy cool Barnes & Noble. I inquired on Twitter about people’s boho memories. My friend Rachel remembers having “lots of pics of Sienna Miller wearing prairie dresses and cowboy boots on my ‘mood board.’” Another friend, Samantha, said she “always wanted to be a boho teen but was too shy.” She says she is very “goth boho” now.
I didn’t get a lot of responses to my inquiry, and I think it’s because the style is something that’s only slightly obsolete but mostly omnipresent. Goth boho might actually be about where we’re at right now. Boho, on its way to a retreat in Tulum, shows just how much the trend cycle has collapsed on itself. It’s everywhere and nowhere. Its earthy, natural colors seem so contrary to the current internet-y color palette of water bottles, black and grey crop tops, and soft pinks. At the same time, boho’s trappings have stayed out in the sun long enough to become a sort of toned-down, refined version of themselves. In 2017, it’s become macrame and gold triangles and house plants. #Bohostyle is an Instagram hashtag updated by the minute. I don’t think there would be an Amanda Chantal Bacon or a culture of blindly out-of-touch celebrity wellness without the original boho set.
Walking into an actual, brick-and-mortar store geared toward young people is a strange look into the stabs at relevancy retailers are making. “Is it floral sundresses they like?” one trend analyst asks. “No, it’s FILA!” says the other trend analyst. “Well,” they agree, “there is always boho.” And more crochet halter tops are stitched together and studded leather belts made, and so it goes. I hope I have done a good job of explaining boho to you, because it is the latest trend for summer 2017.
Kelsey Lawrence is a writer living in Brooklyn. For more boho-inspired thoughts, follow her on Twitter at @veryfamousgirl.