The Unexpected History of the Choker

Jessica Schiffer

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The popularity of choker necklaces is at an all-time high right now, with stylish stars like Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner, along with some our favourite bloggers, topping off their coolest looks with the accessory. Once considered a styling touch reminiscent of the ‘90s, the standout piece has been transformed into something entirely modern, with so many renditions on offer that women of every style persuasion are trying it out. Curious as to where these popular necklaces first originated, I did a little digging and found that they go much further back than I imagined.

According to expert curators from the Jewellery Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, chokers have been around for thousands of years, first gracing the world’s earliest civilisations: the Sumer Empire in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Often done up in gold or lapis, the necklaces were thought to be protective and imbued with special powers.

Chokers emerged again throughout the Renaissance as purely stylistic choices, and were especially popular with royals towards the end of the 19th century. During this latter period, women in Germany and Austria also used the necklaces to hide lumps on their necks caused by goiter, a disease common across the Alps at the time. In other corners of the world, simpler ribbon-chokers were symbols of prostitution, as depicted in Manet’s famous 1863 painting “Olympia,” though the look lost some of its sordid associations when adopted by ballerinas soon after.

Though they were never entirely out of fashion, chokers reigned supreme once more in the 1920s and into the ‘30s, lending themselves to the beloved art deco style of the time. Whether rendered in pearls or velvet ribbon with a central decal, they were often referred to as “dog collars” during this time. Their prevalence faded once the 1940s began, but they were adopted once again, in more colourful iterations, by free-spirited '70s hippies.

In the ‘90s, of course, chokers reemerged with a bang, though they were not the finer versions of yore. Instead, the era's rocker chicks and It-girls donned the infamous plastic tattoo chokers or opted for the minimal-yet-stark look of a black ribbon. Pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera carried the accessories into the early aughts, preferring flashier options in silver and gold.

Their recent return—popular across the board, it seems—sees the most diverse offering yet, with everything from gem-encrusted collars to simple leather neck-ties on the market. Brands as dissimilar as Givenchy and Chloe have sprinkled recent runways with the necklaces, while top jewellery designers like Jennifer Fisher and Pamela Love continue to send out new and inspired renditions. Given its continued appeal throughout history, you might even say the choker has become a staple—a modern-day investment piece with ancient roots.

Click through the gallery below to see how chokers have changed over time, and shop some of our current favourites!

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