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The Choker: A Fascinating Retrospective & History

Tanzy Ward

 

    (Agostino Brunias Painting titled 'Free West Indian Dominicans, Oil On Canvas. 1770's.Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection)

Far from a newer trend, the choker has went by many names and purposes for centuries. Women in both the ancient Sumer-Mesopotamia & Egypt empires layered chokers with other necklaces for protection and power. During the French Revolution in 1798, ribbons were worn around the necks to honor those who were killed by the guillotine. Anne Boleyn, King Henry VII of England's second wife, was famously portrayed in a painting wearing a pearl strand choker-like necklace with the letter 'B' pendant around her neck. It is rather a mystery concerning what exactly happen to Boleyn's iconic necklace. Many speculate that it was either passed down to her daughter Elizabeth I, and ultimately melted down & sold off, which was a popular custom during the time.  

 (Portrait painting of Ann Boleyn wearing a pearl stranded choker-style necklace with letter 'B' initials. Boleyn has been in several paintings wearing her favorite pearl strand collar necklace. Painting Attributed to John Hoskins)

The choker was not only a chic accessory for wealthy women belonging to a royal hierarchy. In the 1800's, the choker was also worn by prostitutes, which were often ribbon styles . Many associate Edouard Manet's 1863 painting 'Olympia' with the depiction of a prostitute wearing a choker necklace. During the Victorian era, Queen Victoria posed for portraits wearing elegantly designed chokers for style expression. Alexandra, the Princess of Wales wore chokers to cover a scar on her neck. Of course, many citizens were inspired by the fashion trend and for several decades chokers became a perfect statement accessory to pair with outfits. The wealthier women often adorn their chokers with jewels, but the 'Mourning' style choker also became popular among regular citizens as well during the Grand period of Queen Victoria's reign. If we look at antique Victorian era photos, women often posed in portraits wearing black chokers that befittingly complimented their dresses. 

How Queen Victoria made her mark in Canada — without ever visiting ...

(Portrait of Queen Victoria wearing a choker. C.1860. London Stereoscopic Company/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Princess Alexandra of Wales, mids 1870s | Princess alexandra ...

(Portrait of Alexandra, the Princess of Wales wearing a choker necklace. C.1870's. Alexandra often was seen in most of her photos wearing chokers to hide a scar that was on her neck.)

(Antique Victorian Era Whitby Jet &green glass beaded choker. This choker  was created in the popular 'mounring' style, which was a common trend after the passing of Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert. Zanathia Collection)

(Antique Victorian Era Hematite Gunmetal Choker Necklace, Zanathia Jewelry Collection)

 Chokers remained a fashion trend into the 1900's, and were known as 'dog collars' in the Art Deco & Retro jewelry Eras. Common choker styles were multi-stranded pearls, black ribbons, beaded detailing, and gemstone encrusted.  As time went on, chokers were created with more variety of materials. In the late 60's and 70's, the 'boho' look included chokers created from leather and metal with era-appropriate designs such as colorful floral patterns and simple statement peace signs. The look was not as extravagant or glamorous  compared to earlier choker styles. 

Les Fleurs Du Mal | Vintage black glamour, Victorian women, Gibson ...

 (Portrait of Edwardian Era vaudeville performer, actress, dancer/choreographer, and singer Aida Overton Walker wearing a double stranded pearl choker. C.1910's Whits/N.Y)

By the 1990's, many Generation X teens and young adults began to wear plastic 'tattoo' chokers that were stretchy and trendy. The choker style carried on into the 'Y2K' era, and now the modern choker comes in a variety of designs for everyone's personal style preference. Presently, the versatile choker remains a popular statement accessory with a prolific past and promising future. 


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