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In a BDSM context, a collar is a device of any material worn by a person around the neck to indicate their submissive or slave status in a BDSM relationship. A person wearing a collar to symbolize their relationship with another is said to be collared. Some people conduct formal "collaring ceremonies", which are regarded as effectively solemnizing their relationship in a similar way as a marriage ceremony and the collar having similar significance as a wedding ring. The standard form of a collar is a black leather band around the neck, often with metal D-rings added to allow the attachment of a leash, rope or other restraints; but to be more discreet in public, some people may wear an ordinary choker or jewelry necklace for the same symbolic purpose.
Construction and appearance
The most common material for a collar is leather, and many people use actual dog collars with a buckle. Other materials include rubber, PVC, and metal (typically stainless steel; however, a few sources offer precious metal versions). Many collars are constructed with several different materials, and may also be decorated in various ways. Collars often feature buckles, straps and hooks, padlocks and other attachments.
A wolf collar is a collar fitted with spikes, studs, or nails, which in the BDSM context are decorative. Such collars were originally used to protect dogs from wolves, hence the name, and have been adopted by the BDSM community. The spikes are considered to be dangerous, and such collars are used with care. Some wolf collars have the spikes coated in plastic for added protection.
A neck corset is a type of posture collar that incorporates stays. It is a corset-like device designed for the neck instead of the waist, but usually it is not used to compress the neck in the way that a normal corset compresses the waist, except in breathplay.
Stays incorporated in a neck corset are specially made shorter, used to support the weight of the head on the shoulders, while its corset structure helps in maintaining posture by keeping the chin high and the neck extended. It is often combined with a traditional corset in order to achieve better posture.
Some neck corsets and posture collars are designed to also cover the mouth. These devices, often called mouth corsets, are primarily used in BDSM because they can be used as a gag.
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Collars have varying degrees of significance for people in the BDSM community. A person wearing a collar may wish by doing so to make it known that he or she is submissive. Wearing a collar may similarly be a signal to others that the submissive is "owned" by or is in a relationship with a dominant, and that the wearer has been formally collared. It may also be a potently tangible symbol of the relationship itself or of the ownership the submissive is held in. A lockable collar may further symbolize a transfer of power from the submissive to the dominant holding the key.
Some submissives do not wear their collars all the time. They are becoming more common as a fashion accessory, but not sufficiently so that they would go unnoticed, particularly if worn by men. Many choose to wear a collar only when in private with their partners, or with other members of the BDSM community.
Collars can be made from lighter materials such as cotton, or heavier materials such as leather. Steel collars are also worn by some and lockable (metal) necklaces are also regarded as a form of collar. A very few even choose to wear permanently locking collars (these click into place and have no unlocking key), that cannot be removed except by cutting the steel.
As BDSM practices are moving from the old guard leather community into middle class society, the role of the collar has also changed. Increasingly couples who also practice 24/7 dominance and submission relationships adopt collars that can be mistaken as ordinary chokers or jewelry necklaces and can be worn discreetly in public. Such items are often referred to as day collars in BDSM parlance. Further evolution of this migration has had groups which actively practice BDSM in a relationship but where roles are switched or not as clear as in a traditional D/s relationship. The practice of joint collaring has emerged, where both wear a collar to show their devotion to the other one and to their lifestyle. Generally the collars look alike and/or are inscribed with vows to each other, and in this instance their significance may be similar to that of a wedding ring.
The practice of using three stages of collaring is informally followed by some in the BDSM community. Under this system, the collar of consideration is the first and roughly analogous to a pre-engagement ring. This collar could be removed at any time by the submissive with no ill will and the relationship thereby ended. The training collar is roughly analogous to an engagement ring and indicates a deepening relationship in which the submissive is being prepared by the dominant to serve to the standards the dominant wishes. Again, the submissive may ask to be released but the break is considered more serious and painful for both parties. Finally, the slave collar is analogous to a wedding band and at this point the submissive is considered a formal slave and owned by the dominant. Among some in the leather community this is considered permanent with no chance to end unless the submissive was released by the dominant for some exceptional reason. Simple failure of service is not adequate since that indicates a failure on the part of the dominant as well as the slave. As with engagement and wedding rings there are traditions with collars in regard to the materials and colors that are appropriate to each type, usually becoming more elaborate.
House collars are also used in clubs, homes and in organizations that provide social spaces to protect submissives. House collars show that the submissive is under the guidance of the house and is not to be approached. This is often used with inexperienced submissives who are not ready to make their own choices yet and need time to learn.
Velcro collar is an increasingly common term, used derisively. The old guard leather community was very protocol oriented and stressed serious lifestyle involvement because of safety issues. More recently, however, email, Internet chat rooms and instant messaging services allowed the curious to participate in casual (and often anonymous) D/s relationships online. The velcro reference indicates the tendency for online dominants and submissives to have new online collaring ceremonies frequently and without regard for existing relationships which end as easily as not logging in.
Other wearers of collars
Although in many instances collars are worn solely by a submissive partner in a relationship with a dominant, in some cases the dominant partner or an unattached person may also wear a collar. People across social layers can now be seen wearing casual collars, purely for fashion. Collars used for fashion are worn by both men and women, and made from various materials such as soft leather, cotton, neoprene, nylon etc. often in bright friendly colors but varying from bright, neutral into darker colors. The lining ranges from bare leather to lambskin, to faux fur. The collar most often has a buckle either in black, nickel or brass design, but snaps and velcro closures are also found. Adornments range from plain collars, to decorative stitching, to studs of all kinds to gems to ruby domes and gemocites etc. Attachments are common too, but often discreet, e.g. a thin black D-ring in front of the collar.
In more mainstream culture and especially in pornography, images depicting women wearing collars are common regardless of whether these women are intended to be depicted as submissive or dominant.
Collars and other alternative clothing can also be found in certain subcultures such as goth, punk, heavy metal, Japanese anime and manga culture, otherkin or the furry fandom. These collars vary according to the expression wanted by the people who wear them. In Goth and old-school Punk culture the collars are often similar to wolf collars mentioned above and match their other spike adorned accessories such as bracelets.
In some social groups, one is expected to follow certain rules regarding a collared person. A person should ask if he or she wants to be collared. The collar itself is often owned and affixed by the dominant and treated as a symbol of the highest respect.
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