American Bohemians Vs. Czech Bohemians
By: Casey Conniff
Are Bohemians a group of people from the Czech Republic or an eccentric and nomadic fashion style and lifestyle? It’s both! It all depends on where you hear the word and who you are talking to. Ask Americans what Bohemian is and they will have a very different answer than the Czechs.
In modern American times, bohemian or “boho” refers to a nontraditional freestyle life. Bohemian fashion often includes free flowing and gypsy-like clothing. The term can also be connected to a creative liberal mindset with unconventional social and political views. Often a bohemian is an off brand outsider but in a romanticized light that is still embraced by mainstream culture.
This modernized and popular American definition is a far stretch from the term used to define a group of people from a specific location, Bohemia or the Czech republic, so how did the term evolve so far? The origins of the modern definition actually come from the French not the Czech. In the 19th century, the term was used to describe the Romani people in France who were mistakenly believed to have reached France by traveling through Bohemia. At the time, the term was used as an insult for the poor gyspy lifestyle that these people embodied and the unconventional political and social views they held.
Eventually the term was picked up in the United States in a much more positive light. The term was self-imposed by many who wanted to be connected to the bohemian lifestyle. The term was mainly used by newspaper writers and other writers when it first appeared in the United States but eventually branched out to other art groups such as musicians. As time went on, the term grew to include the popular fashion trends that are now so ingrained in the American definition of bohemian.
While in the United States and in some parts of Europe, the term bohemian has taken on a whole new light, in the Czech Republic it still means the group of people from Bohemia. Bohemian can both refer to the people specifically in the westernmost region of the Czech Republic but has also evolved to encompass all Czechs. While the term has grown to include a broader circle of people, it is still connected to the geographically location, not the cultural or fashion term that exists in the United States.
So who exactly are Bohemians? That all depends on who you are talking to.