Homegrown Counterculture: How India Inspired The Bohemian Aesthetic

Homegrown Counterculture: How India Inspired The Bohemian Aesthetic
L: Harshvardhan Shah R: EDM.com

The bohemian aesthetic captures a wild spirit and is often used as a tool to communicate one's non conformist ideals. The present day trend takes forward the flower child movement of the 70’s and 80’s when the hippie subculture had a special grip over the youth in the USA; propagating values of peace and love in the war-torn time, the hippies took on a physical style that broke away from structure and indicators of class. Their radical approach to life was communicated through fluid silhouettes and prints inspired by the east, which were rich in colour and carried a more vivacious spirit.

This trend has remained strong in musician circles however keeps going in and out of fashion at large. The 2010’s saw a meteoric rise in this style which was now recognised as ‘Bohemian’ named after the wandering travellers. This rise intersected with the advent of social media and especially took on due to the aesthetic driven appeal of Instagram. The style is emblematic of an eclectic lifestyle, one that takes inspiration from travel and different cultures.

Retro patterns, flowy, unstructured silhouettes, natural fabrics, attractive hippie-inspired prints and patterns, oversized sunglasses, earthy shades, headbands, open-toed sandals, and statement accessories are a few staples of the aesthetic. However only in recent years have people noted the unmatched influence of India’s culture and spirituality on the style. The style brings with it a rich tapestry of ethnic cultures out of which India’s contribution seems to be the greatest. To the extent that many of the native silhouettes, prints and symbols are now simply known for their Bohemian influence and not the real heritage and significance.

Historically South Asian influences have been exported to the west, which became a phenomenon during the British colonisation of India which began in the 1700’s. Opening up a landscape of a continent rich in colour and fragrance, that many people had never experienced before. Since then the cultural exchange between the two countries has established trends around the globe. Whilst this intermingling of cultures has been great on the fashion front, it was the beginning of an unjust exchange. Where the West borrowed styles and symbols from India as a mode of appropriation instead of appreciation (validated with due credit). 


The Bohemian aesthetic continues to flourish by using highly revered symbols from the Indian subcontinent as mere fashion accessories. Across India, jewellery is not simply a mark of status but comes with great spiritual and religious meaning. Their connections to mythology make them highly auspicious but within the Bohemian style they are often diluted down to ‘exotic’ symbols that lack any heritage. Hollywood celebrities who have similarly utilised the aesthetic have also been called out in the past but the trend of wearing spiritual jewellery has only become more widespread in recent years. 

Additionally the aesthetic also borrows from traditional Indian embroidery that is created using vibrantly dyed threads, unlike anything the textiles industry had seen before. This intricate embroidery such as Kantha, Zardozi and Phulkari are usually carried on tote bags. The trend also takes inspiration from the unique ‘Tie and Dye’ technique from Rajasthan that is as old as 5000 years. The three famous forms ‘Bandhani’ ‘Ikat’ and ‘Lehariya’ are often sported under the Bohemian category. 

The style also breaks away from the conforming silhouettes and embraces fluidity that is celebrated in the eastern cultures. Indians have always adorned comfortable clothing that suits our climate, this includes Harem trousers which are loose-fitting, low-hanging, linen trousers with tapered hems. These trousers were introduced into western society through women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer who named them as the uniform for feminists. As these trousers represented freedom and liberation, which is why they are a staple in the Bohemian wardrobe. 

Essentially the Bohemian style is a marriage between Indian and western influences. It takes inspiration from the artistic expressions of the region that remained starkly different to the aesthetics of the west. Hence when communicating alternate ideas, this avant-garde costume comes to the forefront. The Bohemian aesthetic is now prevalent in all areas of the world and are adorned by those who wish to enhance their look using offbeat patterns and styles that are etymological to the essence of India.