Janese Silvey is the story specialist/strategist for Stephens College. This article was also published on the Stephens College website.
It originated as a style used by independent thinkers to challenge the status quo, but over time, Bohemian influence crept into fashions worn by social outcast and socialite alike.
The Stephens College Historic Costume Gallery will explore that evolution during the exhibit “Bohemian Rhapsody” this semester. The exhibit opens with a reception from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Sept. 12 and will continue through Dec. 15. Regular gallery hours are noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Private tours are available.
Although the term Bohemian did not surface until decades later, its roots can be traced to the poets, playwrights and artists of the early 1800s, said Monica McMurry, dean of the School of Fashion and Design. She points to the Romantic Army, a group of theatergoers that dressed absurdly and crowded into Victor Hugo’s controversial play “Hernani” to keep the critics at bay.
Bohemians surfaced as a counterculture after the French Revolution, and the style tends to resurface in times of social unrest. Many of the pieces in the collection are from the 1920s and 1970s and feature colorful paisley and floral prints. Pieces also show Gypsy, Asian and Medieval influences. Although many are extravagant, the pieces also reflect the influence in everyday wear.
“The average person owes a debt of gratitude to those who have dressed at the edges of social decorum, or Bohemian,” McMurry said. “The Bohemian has gone before most of society to take risks and upset the boundaries of culture, thus the co-opting by the rest of us to be part of that group.”
Designers in the collection include Donald Brooks, who was perhaps best known for costume and theatrical designs; Anne Fogarty, known for designing clothing accessible to women on limited income; and Vera, an American artist and designer known for bold colors and patterns. Two dresses in the collection were owned by singer Jane Froman and are on loan from Columbia College; and the exhibit also includes a red dressing gown owned by Matilda Magnus Price, a Columbia socialite after whom the Stephens fashion collection is named. The exhibit also includes pieces of lingerie — a first for the Stephens College Historic Costume Gallery.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” will have a special section that celebrates the classic combination of black and gold popular in Columbia. Fine or better dress is as much a part of most Southeastern Conference tailgate parties as enjoying the game, McMurry said. “We hope to inspire this in our own collection of ‘spirited’ clothing."
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