help, is a 2000s boho style revival about to happen?
Slouchy suede boots and coin-covered belts are due for a comeback.
Photography Dave Benett; Jamie McCarthy; Andy Butterton via Getty Images.
“Teenage girls like certain things I wear — or certainly did when that whole boho thing happened,” Sienna Miller said in 2009. She was right to an extent. She just didn’t go far enough. From the summer of 2004 to late 2005, a generation of British teenagers (including me) wanted to be Sienna Miller. Only this fact explains the fanatical, widespread adoption of what the British press labeled her “boho” approach to getting dressed.
Sienna went to an all-girls boarding school, which made her either intriguingly or infuriatingly posh. She had a naturally athletic, sunny appeal that suggested she was probably really good at both field hockey and getting into London nightclubs frequented by minor British royals. She was often photographed barefoot in public. She had tousled blonde hair that no amount of hand-mussing and John Frieda Beach Blonde could fake. And from 2003 to 2006 she dated Jude Law, who was then at his teen heartthrob prime, thanks partly to the movie Alfie, which premiered in the winter of 2004. The film was, in most senses, a disaster, but it introduced Jude and Sienna, which made her infinitely photographed by the paparazzi and therefore easier to study. Most of my school friends owned the DVD.
Importantly, Sienna Miller knew how to accessorize really, really well. She was so good at wearing belts that she once wore one as a bodice to a party (along with forest-green Peter Pan boots) and it looked cool — in the eyes of a 15-year-old girl, in 2005.
Sienna’s slightly hippie, suede-heavy style created a fashion trend so specific it might more accurately be called a micro-trend. But it was so influential that it helped accelerate the pace of fast fashion. The look became so pervasive that just two years later, Miller told Vogue she never wanted to “wear anything floaty or coin-belty ever again.”
Boho style first entered the public spotlight on June 24, 2004, when Sienna attended Glastonbury in a ripped denim dress, Ugg boots, and an ambiguously exotic studded brown leather belt. Oprah Winfrey had introduced Ugg, an Australian brand beloved by surfers, to her audience of millions in the US in 2000, causing a substantial uptick in sales. But in 2004, sales of Ugg boots spiked astronomically — by 215.3 percent — thanks largely to Sienna Miller in the UK, and Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in the US. The boots sold out in stores around the world; I remember walking past an Ugg store in the mid 2000s that had a velvet rope outside it to control the crowds.
Later, in the fall of 2004, Sienna was photographed in a fur gilet. In a 2007 interview, Jane Shepherdson, then the brand director of Topshop, recalled that "when Sienna wore that gilet, we had to pull them forward fast [...] She was doing boho in the autumn, and we were expecting it to be a trend for the following spring. Girls see it and they want it immediately." That gilet, a staple of boho, helped forge the speed-production model that is now used by not only British high street stores but also fashion brands around the world. The delay between seeing a paparazzi photo of a celebrity and finding versions of that celebrity’s clothing in stores became infinitesimal.
Uggs and fur gilets were boho’s biggest success stories. But a list of other items you might have bought in 2005: A tiered white cotton skirt. A belt made of studded leather circles. A bronze bangle that you wore around your bicep, which was only flattering if your arms looked toned by years of school sports, as Sienna Miller’s did. Cowboy boots. A burnished gold locket necklace. A cardigan that seemed baggy but then ended abruptly above your midriff. Anything by Matthew Williamson.
While Sienna Miller is widely credited with creating boho style, that’s not strictly correct. As she has herself admitted, “I did not start the trend.” "I think I'd just come back from traveling or something,” she told the London Times in 2007 about her style influences in 2004. “Boho” fashion staples defined the wardrobes of many former British school students returning from their gap years in the mid 2000s. The girls leaving school ahead of me all wore those little beaded Indian slippers, swathes of silver-shot fabric tied around their waists, and tank tops that revealed their bra straps. That was how certain British girls dressed in the mid 2000s. Sienna Miller just happened to be the most photographed.
The beginning of Sienna’s career coincided with the intensification of tabloid culture. The spread of boho can equally be credited to the growing number of paparazzi who would hound Sienna on any given day and sell her images to gossip magazines and, increasingly, websites. “I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me. And the fact they had cameras in their hands made that legal,” she has said.
Sienna was not the only poster girl of boho. Kate Moss did a more rock version. Keira Knightley experimented with wide studded belts in 2005. And patron saint of long flowing skirts Mary-Kate Olsen wore many a bronze upper-arm bangle in the mid 2000s. But it’s Sienna’s version of boho that lives on in the public consciousness, despite its demise by ubiquity in early 2006. It’s her brand of boho — lace-up tops, suede fringing, and dubiously “ethnic” detailing — that can still be felt in the revealing 70s-inflected outfits of Coachella goers. (Coachella is also where boho’s tendency to cherry pick from vaguely “exotic”-seeming cultures has reached its natural and disastrous conclusion.)
For the past few years, fashion has seemed stuck in the 90s. But the 00s are creeping onto the catwalks. See: the Britney-esque whiskered denim and thongs at Linder and the Hot Topic-inspired nostalgia at Vaquera. Vetements has collaborated with Juicy Couture. Jeremy Scott is reviving Ugg boots. There was recently an art show in Brooklyn inspired by Nicole Richie’s 2007 memorial day barbecue.
It seems like only a matter of time before gilets and studded belts are offered up as desirable objects once again. But will boho reemerge as a slightly ironic reinterpretation by an avant-garde brand like Eckhaus Latta? Or via a clever contemporary update by, say, Joseph Altuzarra, who has already experimented with the style codes of British school girls (see: fall’s puffy velvet headbands)? I just hope that Sienna Miller — who weathered “boho” to have an acclaimed acting career and now lives in a cottage in the English countryside — is able to exempt herself from media frenzy when this happens. I hope that she’s living her best bohemian life, dancing barefoot around Gloucestershire without an Ugg boot in sight. “It was a strange social experiment,” she has said, “to be responsible for all that.”