Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW OF CHOKERS

SEW WHAT

BY: JESSICA SVENNINGSON

Chokers have been exploding all over social media this year. 1990s tattoo chokers are now available again, as are 1940s dog collars, in addition to some of the more recent and stranger choker fashion inventions. 

Forever 21 2017 choker. Source
However iconic chokers might be to those who have lived through the 20th and into the 21st century, chokers go back centuries. Old and ancient art works show chokers around the necks of ancients like Mesopotamian and Egyptian rulers, Indian and Chinese royalty, Celtic noblemen and women, as well as North American Indigenous groups such as the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe

Native American portrait. Source
These ancient chokers worn by the wealthy were made from precious and semi-precious metals like copper, gold, silver, and in the case of some Indigenous communities, bird bones. Their purposes ranged from protection against physical threats, to spiritual ones, as well as expressing elements of a person’s identity and social ranking.

Maharaja Sir Sri Krishnaraja Wodiyar IV Bahadur of Mysore - 1906. Source
In Renaissance England, Anne Boleyn wore a choker of pearls with the letter 'B' on it, to represent her family name. It was also supposed to protect her from harm; however, it did not save her from her husband, King Henry VIII, who had her beheaded.

Anne Boleyn's most famous portrait - circa 1533-1536. Source
Famously, Madame de Pompadour, the chief mistress to King Louis XV of France and influencer of politics and fashion during the Rococo era, loved to wear chokers. Her influence on fashion during Louis XV's reign led Marie Antoinette to copy this fashion choice during her reign as queen to King Louis XVI.

A close up of a portrait of Madam Pompadour - 1756. Source
Interestingly, after the French nobles lost their heads in the French Revolution, survivors wore chokers as a symbol to remember those who had died. English teenagers of that period also took up the trend of wearing red chokers, to make fun of the French and their unstable politics.

Example of a "red around the head" choker necklace. Source
These chokers often featured rubies to represent dripping blood.
In late 19th century Europe, wearing chokers, or more commonly a black shoelace tied around one’s throat, was a symbol of prostitution. It is most easily seen in Manet's impressionist paintings, such as A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Olympia

Close up of Olympia - 1865. Source
This trend was very quickly adapted by ballet dancers at that time, as seen in Edgar Degas’s paintings of ballerinas. Interestingly, the treatment of prostitutes and dancers by the French public at that time was somewhat similar, which may have inspired the dancers to adopt the fashion choice as an act of irony.

Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, 1973-76. Source
Chokers have also been popular in 19th and 20th century fashions, going in and out of style throughout the decades with practical purposes beyond their aesthetic values. The placement of chokers so high on a woman’s neck provided an opportunity to hide certain abnormalities around that part of the body that would otherwise be difficult to hide.

Princess Alexandra of Denmark - 1844-1925. Source
When Prince Edward of England married his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, in 1863, England was eager for a new fashion icon. Queen Victoria, who was nearing the end of her reign at that time, was not only very conservative with her fashion but had also been living in mourning clothes since the 1861 death of her husband, Prince Albert. It is widely rumored that Princess Alexandra frequently wore chokers due to her desire to hide a childhood scar on her neck. Her love of chokers made from jewels, pearls, and luxurious fabrics like velvet, was enthusiastically adopted by English women. 

1900's woman wearing a choker and diamonds. Source
The trend was carried through the late 19th century, over to America, and into the Art Nouveau era, finding a home on the necks of flappers and vamps of the 1920s. 

A 1920's vamp. Source
Chokers fell out of mainstream fashion during The Great Depression. However, plain black woven chokers were occasionally worn by women, thought to be a possible sign of secret lesbianism. Chokers made a brief resurgence during the 1940s, when they were referred to as dog collar necklaces.

From Blush Magazine. Source
The enthusiasm for chokers didn’t re-emerge until the rise of the Flower Child. 

Jimi Hendrix, 1970. Source
Chokers were worn in a cultural fusion, gender-bending fashion. Stone amulets, such as those made from jade, were worn as spiritual protections, and men began wearing chokers as a way to challenge gender norms. Famous musicians such as Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop, to name a few, all wore chokers both on and off the stage. 

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1971. Source
Chokers were adapted again in the 1990's within the goth and grunge girl subcultures, with some relationship to the tribal tattoo trend, and the invention of the tattoo choker.

Stacked 90's tattoo chokers. Source
The resurgence of the choker occurred in 2014 when fashion designers and influencers began reaching back to the 1990's for inspiration, eventually bringing forward all the choker styles from the past 100 years. Now, millennials who yearn for their childhood joys of the 1990's purchase tattoo chokers and women are wearing all kinds of choker styles. Type 'choker' into any Google Image search, and you will find a plethora of young women wearing fat black ribbons, dog collars, stacked jewels, fine beaded pieces, belts, thin black strings with charms on them, metal chains, lace, strips of leather and velvet, strips of metal, and shoelaces, or some combination of these, tied around their throats.

Stacked charm chokers. Source
Chokers are fashion statements, with deeper meanings for political opinions, and spiritual aids. Whether you love them or you hate them, chokers are, have been, and will likely remain an important social tool - and not something to get all choked up about.


Sources:
I3dthemes.com. Native American Originals. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2017.
Bower, Erin. "A Short History of Chokers." Bellatory. Bellatory, 26 May 2017. Web. 18 June 2017.
Dwyer, Kate. "The Forgotten History Behind the Choker Necklace." Allure. Allure Magazine, 24 May 2017. Web. 18 June 2017.
"From Elvis to Beyonce: The Musical History Behind the '90s Choker." Billboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2017.
Graff michelle.graff@nationaljeweler.com, Michelle. "Fashion." National Jeweler. N.p., 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 18 June 2017.
"The Fascinating History of Choker Necklaces." Golden Age Beads Blog. N.p., 16 June 2017. Web. 18 June 2017.

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