As published in France Today
There’s a dress shop in the village square of my adopted home in France where finding what’s new in fall fashions takes you back a century or two.
A visit to the store reminds you of rummaging through your grandmother’s closet, or uncovering an old trunk that’s filled with brown tweed jackets and checkered woolen blankets from somebody’s past.
You walk through the front door of L’Atelier des Ours and hear jingle bells tingling behind you. When you look down at the sand covered, tile floor, it’s hard to know exactly why you’re there. Yet you have to take only a few steps to discover there’s something special in this tiny place, waiting to be discovered.
L’Atelier des Ours, translated “the teddy bear’s workshop”, caters to a unique clientele of European women, mostly from France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany.
The style of clothing, shoes and accessories they purchase in the shop can be called “bobo”,”bourgeois bohème”, or “bohème chic”. The look isn’t for everyone, but for those who define themselves by these flash-back fashions, it is irresistible.
David Brooks, New York Times columnist, identified and named “bobos” in his book, “Bobos in Paradise,” published in the year 2000. Quoting from his review of his own book, Brooks says about bobos: “These are highly educated folk who have one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another foot in the bourgeois realm of ambition and worldly success. The members of the new information age elite are bourgeois bohemian. Or, to take the first two letters of each word, they are bobos.”
According to Brooks, bobos are identified by having “rebel attitudes and social-climbing attitudes all scrambled together.”
Helen Bonham Carter, actress and wife of Tim Burton, is the poster child for extreme “bobo” dressing with her unconventional style. The Olsen twins’ non-conformist, bohème fashions could be considered “bobo” — somber colored, layered, and heavily laden with scarves.
For the bobo chic who shop at L’Atelier des Ours — in the store and online — the style is neither “hippy”, nor dull and frumpy, nor make-believe. It is elegant, eccentric, and smart. In fact it is so “smart” that it takes an understanding of each piece of clothing to put together the perfect outfit.
Start with a ruffled organza petticoat
A multi-ruffled organza petticoat is the basic element of “bobo chic” for daytime. Add a tee-shirt that’s delicately fringed around the top and cover it with a dotted swiss tunic. Wrap it all in a soft pewter sweater and shawl; pull on cotton stockings and mary jane shoes; and voilà!
A simple little dress and scarf
Grab one of the dresses with tiny stripes or granny checks off the rack. Slip on an crinkled organdy petticoat underneath (not to be confused with “organza” which is netting). Swirl a matching scarf around your neck; a floppy handbag over your shoulder; and there, you have a dashing afternoon ensemble.
Smocks, frocks and pantaloons
Heavy cotton smocks and baggy linen pantaloons are the mainstays of a “bobo” wardrobe for all types of occasions. Worn with a woolen shawl and crocheted beret you’re off to market. Add a long, flannel, three-button jacket with knee-high, black boots and you’re ready for cold weather.
Poplin dresses and taffeta skirts
When visiting L’Atelier des Ours, I can never leave without trying on one of the “fantasy” dresses and ruffled skirts.
Picture a very pale gray, ankle-length, crushed poplin dress with a scooped neckline and long crinkled sleeves. Below the hemline of the dress are layers and layers of off-white ruffles showing off from the taffeta skirts worn underneath. To complete the fairy-tale costume, a lushiously soft scarf is tied loosely around the neck and shoulders.
I feel like a princess.
Another place and time
Around my little village the “bobo chic” ladies are easy to sight. Occasionally, I put on my checkered frock, tee-shirt and pantaloons and join them among the crowd of towns people and tourists. No one stops and stares.
Fall and winter 2014 bobo style is neither glitzy nor glamorous. It’s more like comfort food and a warm fireplace. A new look from long ago. A different attitude. A way of life.
Fashion elements for “bobo chic”
A short list of the items that “bobos” stock in their wardrobe doesn’t vary much by season, just by color and weight.
Loose, layered clothing made of natural fabrics
Smocks, tunics, loose trousers, pantaloons
Ruffles, organdy, and lace petticoats
Stapped shoes, boots, and sandals
Mixing patterns of prints and flowers
Simple or no jewelry
Basic-colored scarves in a variety of soft fabrics
Simple tee-shirts, long and short sleeved
Sweaters, wraps, jackets and long coats
For a virtual visit of L’Atelier des Ours, visit the website and catalogue. Better yet, treat yourself with a stop at the store in Uzes, France.