The traditional collar is a neck band, normally in leather, metal or rubber. Collars can vary widely - from the decorative to the purely functional - and although they are often removable, some are a permanent fixture. It is normally chosen, designed or even crafted by the Dominant partner.
In BDSM, the wearing of a collar generally signifies that the wearer is a submissive. Many submissives and slaves wear a collar to denote their status and commitment. It can be used to represent the relationship in much the same way a wedding band does, especially if the submissive is owned. Some subs wear a "symbolic collar", often a bracelet or ankle chain, which is more subdued than the traditional collar and can pass in vanilla situations. It is not uncommon for a sub to have several collars for special occasions.
There was once a tradition that wearing a collar with an open padlock indicated that one was seeking a partner, a closed lock indicated that one was in a relationship. This symbolism has been less common after 1995 or so.
Collars are also used in bondage, although care must be taken as there is always the risk that the submissive might develop breathing problems and therefore should not be left alone whilst bound. Most collars have D-ring attachments so the neck can be bound either to another part of the body or to a fixed object. A collar can also incorporate additional straps and buckles to form a head harness. The effectiveness of using a collar in a bondage scene should not be underestimated; as well as being very effective in holding the submissive immobile, it also reinforces the victim's sense of helplessness and loss of control.
Collars are often used in role-playing games involving humiliation because they have connotations of control and pet-like or animalistic status, especially when worn with a leash. They may also be useful during play as a physical tethering restraint.
Owned slaves may sometimes be forced to wear a leather collar more or less permanently, secured with a padlock at the neck and marked by a slavepenny in front with his name/nummer and owner printed on it.
While not nearly as common as leather, metal collars are still popular with some groups. Collars made from metal, usually steel, often tend to be lightweight lockable collars worn as jewelry, usually by submissive females (such as the Turian collar). In the Gor books, relatively light and thin cylindrical metal locking collars are commonly worn by the kajirae of the "northern civilized cities", usually carefully constructed so as to avoid unintentionally placing pressure on the vulnerable front of the neck (windpipe).
Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, collars can be made from thick steel, which is popular with the gay male groups. Such metal collars can weigh up to several kilos. They usually consist of two thick bands in the form of semicircles, connected by a hinge on one end, and, after placing the collar around the neck of the victim, are then locked in place either by a padlock or by a simple screwed bolt.
Iron collars are popular for a number of reasons:
1. The neck is much smaller than the head, so escape by just slipping out is impossible.
2. As the neck is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, if the collar is connected to a lead-chain the victim will be more easy manageable than otherwise, especially because serious resistance will very quickly leave him gasping.
3. For that reason also, the psychological aspect of a collar in case of slaves is much stronger, as a collar leaps at the eye immediately, and control by the neck reminds the victim of dogs and other animals.
Originally, collars for slaves were not made of leather but of metal, mostly iron. They were either used separately, or as part of a set of metal restraints, including fetters and/or manacles. In Roman times, separate iron collars were often used to identify slaves by way of an inscription with his name or/and that of his owner, sometimes even giving instructions for their return:
- I am Asellus, a slave of Praeiectus an official of the prefect of the grain harvest. I have gone outdoors, beyond the walls. Hold me fast, because I have run away. Return me to the barber's shop near the temple of Flora. (CIL 15.7172)
Collars were also used in the 18th century to identify slaves in Britain (even though the legality of slavery on English soil, at least, was hotly disputed during this period), in France until the nineteenth century for convicts, and to some extent in American plantation slavery. In the TV film Roots (1977), based on the novel by Alexander Haley, Kunta Kinte after being sold is taken away while wearing an iron collar, connected to a long chain to keep him under control.
The intended psychological effect of this also becomes evident when looking at the special attention sometimes paid in the past to the collaring as such, that was often for a greater impact styled like a kind of ritual and public spectacle. This was the case with galley-slaves in France, who marched chained together from several prisons in the country southwards to the bagnos in Toulon. They often had to wait months till the so-called 'Chain' had arrived and it became their turn. Being connected to the Chain by becoming collared with a solid iron neckring must have been a very intimidating experience for the future slaves, reducing them to just a number (that indeed was branded on their upper arm). The fact that the halves of the collars were still riveted together with a hot bolt, although locks already existed in abundance, suggests that the state also was aware of the immense psychological impact on the victim of this method of shackling, as it must have been a much more intense and humiliating experience.
Foucault describes the making of such a chain-gang in his book 'Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison':
"It began with a scaffold ritual: the fixing of iron collars and chains in the courtyard of Bicêtre prison. The convict's neck was thrown back upon a block; but this time the art of the executioner was to strike without crushing the head - an inverted skill that knew how not to deliver the death blow. The courtyard of Bicêtre displays its instruments of torture: several rows of chains with their iron collars. The head-warders, who serve as temporary blacksmiths, arrange the block and hammer. The prisoners are sitting on the ground, coupled at random by the waist; the chains they must carry, each weighing eight pounds, rest heavily on their knees. The operator inspects them, measuring heads and adapting the enormous inch-thick collars. It takes three men to rivet an iron collar; the first holds up the block, the second holds the two branches of the iron collar together and, with his outstretched arms, secures the patient's head; the third strikes with repeated blows and flattens the bolt under his huge hammer. Each blow shakes the head and the body".
The psychological impact of being chained together by the neck collars like a coffle afterwards, often used for transporting slaves, was even greater. Some of those kinds of gang-chains can still be seen in museums (for example, the well-preserved iron coffle or "chain for six slaves" on display in the Manchester Museum from the 1st century BC.)
A few years ago at Cardiff University an Iron Age gang-chain with five connected collars, dug up in Wales, was re-used in a graduate course to find things out, as described in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology 2004:
The experimental archaeology of shackling students together made quite clear to the participants what it meant to be linked all the time by the neck at a very short distance (the separate chains between the collars measuring less than one metre) to others similarly ensnared, unable to escape your fate. The five victims involved totally surrendered their individual identity, made to shuffle forward as one, thus losing selfhood and becoming a corporate entity. Their heads were necessarily bowed to one and the same position, despite significant variations in their overall height or even length of leg, as the connecting chains were too short to reckon with individual differences in stature. The head of the tallest 'slave' all the time was forced inexorably by his collar downwards, the shortest on the contrary was continually panting for breath, as he was dragged more or less forward by his neck ring, that thanks to his taller gang-fellows was pushing upwards against his head continually. Especially walking in accidented grounds was very difficult, as one step too slow or too quick made the whole gang stumble, and once one of the chained lost his balance, either his collar would nearly choke him, or he would take the others down too. Sometimes they had to hold onto their own chains not to lose their equilibrium - a more intense sense of bondage for a slave is not easily imaginable.
There is an very revealing picture in colour showing this in the book 'Dying for the Gods' by Miranda Aldhouse Green (2001): here one can clearly see that while they are going down a hill on an irregular path barefoot, ALL FIVE captives at the same time - and presumably not only for a few seconds - are looking to their own fetters for balance, the first and last of the row grabbing their slave-collars to avoid the hard pulling on their neck backwards respectively forwards by the connecting slave-chain, the third and fourth holding the chain just at the very first links in front of their necklace, whereas the second guy, having to make at that moment the biggest step to bridge over the dfference in height, has taken the chain in front of him with his left hand halfway the next collar for maximal muffling of the expected jerks to his confined neck.
Influence on BDSM
In the Gor books, wearing a collar indicates specific ownership (as opposed to being branded, which indicates general slave status), and most collars worn by slaves who are allowed to venture out into public areas (such as city streets etc.) designate the slave's owner.
- Halter collar
- Posture collar
- Turian collar
- Wolf collar
- Shrew's fiddle
- Bondage belt
- Collared slave
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