In a leather/BDSM context, a collar is a device of any material worn by a person around the neck to indicate their submissive/slave status in a 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.
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.
Collars have varying degrees of significance for people in the BDSM/leather community. A person wearing a collar may wish by doing so to make it known that they are a BDSM slave. Wearing a collar may similarly be a signal to others that the submissive is “owned” by 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 leather 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 everyday 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. The three collars come from the traditions of the three rings of a formal relationship; the Promise ring, the Betrothal ring, and the Wedding ring.
Under this system, the Collar of Consideration is the first and roughly analogous to a pre-engagement or Promise ring. Much like the rings of past civilizations and customs, this collar can be of any substance, but always something of significance to both parties. Much like the Class ring it holds a special place in the owners heart, one that they entrust to the beloved. Sometime in the late mid to late 80’s it became custom for some, for this collar to be blue of some sort; ribbon, leather, a gem, a token, etc. The color blue signifies a fresh start and or a new beginning. Much like the Promise ring of days gone by this collar signifies that the couple has entered a dating period in which they want to learn about each other. This collar could be removed at any time by the submissive or dominant with hopefully no ill will and the relationship thereby ended.
The Training Collar is roughly analogous to an engagement ring or Betrothal ring and indicates a deepening, committed relationship in which the submissive is being prepared (trained)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 Formal Collar is analogous to a Wedding band and at this point the submissive is considered the property of 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 a submissive. House collars show that the submissive is under the guidance of the house and is not to be approached. This is often used with an inexperienced submissive 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.
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.