Colliers de Chien

Chiens Perdus Sans Collier – Jacqueline François

(Lost Dogs Without Their Collars – see the translation here)

I read somewhere once, that there is a history behind every item of clothing or decoration that we wear today.

On a whim, I googled chokers just to see what kind of history it would reveal. What I found is quite colorful.

In ancient history, chokers were worn for protection to a vulnerable part of our anatomy. The wearing of them can be found in nearly all cultures and it is pretty evident that though they might not have understood that the carotid artery runs through the neck, they definitely understood that a wound to this area could kill you in a matter of minutes. What’s interesting is that in many of these ancient cultures, these ornaments around the neck (and other vulnerable areas such as the wrist, arms and ankles) were believed to give special powers to the wearers.

In the late 1790’s, the choker became a political symbol to pay homage to those that would die by guillotine.  This choker was a thin red ribbon that the wearer often wore to “victim balls,” parties held for the family of the guillotine victim.

A hundred years later, it became the symbol of prostitution, again indicated by a red (and sometimes black) ribbon.

Ten years after that, it was a simple decoration worn by ballerina’s.

Then in the 1800’s, it became a royal decoration trended by Alexandra, Princess of Wales, due to her extensive travels in India.  It is widely stated that she held such a keen interest in the chokers because she had a scar on her neck that she wished to hide.  These pieces were usually quite large, made of gold and studded with a plethora of jewels.

During the Depression era, a plain black woven choker or ribbon might indicate that the wearer was, in secret, a lesbian.

In the 1940’s, the trend was picked up by more American women. For them, it was a symbol of power and independence. During this era, a velvet ribbon would usually be decorated with cameos, lace, pearls or diamonds which were custom-tailored to the wearer’s neck. Life magazine dubbed them “colliers de chien” or dog collars.

In the 1970’s, the choker made another appearance.  This time, it donned the necks of punk rockers.  At the time, Disco was all the rage with its glitz and glamor.  Punk was the ultimate alternative.  Largely, this was a British movement with clothing coming from a King’s Road boutique, which became the now famous shop – “SEX,” ran by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. The clothing sold at SEX was meant to be anti-materialistic with an element of shock. It mixed together the feminine and masculine and borrowed heavily from the BDSM community. Together, these pieces became iconic looks for bands/singers like the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, PJ Harvey and Patti Smith.

I could sort of guess that the choker was originally meant for protection, but I sure never guessed it had such a colorful history.  Now I know.

Until next time, thanks for stopping by!


Top – Lane Bryant; Culottes – Lane Bryant (similar here); Shoes – Xhilaration at Target (Old – but here’s a pair I like).


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