The term bohemian then came to be applied to people who were neither Romani nor from Bohemia when, in the late nineteenth century, artists, writers, musicians and performers began to cluster together in the parts of Paris traditionally associated with the Romani people. These were, of course, the poorer parts of town, the cheaper places to live, and the artists tended to be poor. The Romani people were thought of as Bohemian, having come from Bohemia, and thus the artists who began to live among them were also called Bohemians. The idea of calling anyone who lived an unconventional, artist's life, a Bohemian grew from there.
My Oxford English Dictionary lists the first definition of Bohemian as 1. (Native) of Bohemia, a former kingdom now part of Czechoslovakia, Czech. 2. Socially unconventional (person); of free & easy habits, manners & sometimes morals (esp. of artists etc.). Clearly it could potentially be considered an insult or a slur to say someone has free and easy manners and morals, although such a description may not offend everyone. If one is really and truly Bohemian in this sense, it would not be offensive at all.
In our culture it is considered a desirable thing to be your unique self. Everyone is a special individual, we are told. While our immediate cultural environment will vary on a liberal-conservative scale, it is no longer a terribly shocking thing to be a bit different. Or even a lot different. The town eccentric is out of a job because it's all been seen and done before. So how far out there does one have to get in order to be 'unconventional'? I would argue that it has to be pretty far out and thus there are not many bohemians left. The other possibility is that there are so many bohemians that bohemianism itself is no longer possible and thus the term is mostly useless. It has changed into a sort of watered down pop culture phenomenon. Now we have boho chic.
Currently, boho chic in fashion means clothing that is a bit reminiscent of the original hippie era, with lots of California influence in the form of maxi dresses, cowboy boots, cut off denim shorts and long hair worn in what is known as beachy waves. People in New York or Tokyo don't do boho chic as far as I know. If it veers away from the hippie look it embraces a sort of, theatrical gypsy look and despite the word gypsy now being considered offensive, the word still gets tossed around in this context. The internet abounds with people claiming to be a gypsy at heart and swooning over vintage dresses and jangly bangles. I quite like many parts of the boho look, but ironically it is not really bohemian if adopted wholeheartedly as a style as it is too mainstream and too prescribed. The Paris bohemians did not pop into the local Bohemian Babe Boutique to buy their clothes.
Bohemian home decor means your home is meant to look like you travel a lot. You will have "ethnic" things which you either bought on your many travels to exotic places or you bought at Pier 1 Imports hoping to look like you travel to exotic places. You may favour Moroccan, Indian, Mexican or American Southwest and if you are under 40 you mix it in with mid-century modern furniture. You might possibly go for the California/Scandinavian influenced boho-modern look in which you have pale wood, white walls, mid-century modern furniture and a sparse arrangement of "ethnic" decor or pink things. Because of the gypsy association, some people see a bohemian lifestyle as one with few possessions and attachments, perhaps no permanent residence. This would mean quite sparse living but you won't see that in any home decor features. It's not the same as modern minimalism which has much invested in architecture and a spare but expensive look, if not knick- knacks and ethnic print throw pillows. You can google sites that will prescribe for you how to decorate in bohemian style, just as you can find an explanation on how to dress that way.
Obviously this misuse of a term is getting on my word-nerd nerves. I will be the first to admit that my own tastes go in a bohemian direction, my own lifestyle is somewhat unconventional at least compared with my peer group, and I probably have more unconventional views than many of my peers realise due to my currently living a quiet life and keeping much to myself. I would love to be a bohemian in a more original sense of the word, but I don't consider myself one because in the end I still think I am too ordinary. I don't mean that negatively. It's rare to be unusual and unconventional simply because it's not easy to be these days. So much variety in behaviour and lifestyle is accepted and I'm sure that's a good thing. What seems bohemian in one environment may seem ordinary in another. The original artistic concept of bohemianism implied a certain degree of poverty too. Most people don't want that for too long a period in their lives. Even Picasso, an original bohemian artist, eventually became wealthy.
For an interesting look at the lives and art of the people associated with the bohemian movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I recommend these two books.
And for a bit of fun reading try this one. It's a tongue in cheek look at the modern day bohemian/artist culture written by a woman who lives in it.
I am curious to try this one and would be interested if anyone has read it.
Now, I'm off to decide which maxi skirt I will wear tomorrow when I go shopping for a Suzani. Just kidding, but I would actually love a suzani.