The traditional collar is a neck band, normally in leather, metal or rubber. Collars can vary widely - from the decorative to the purely function and although 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 is 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 either bound 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 victims 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.
Collars were used as part of metal restraints in ancient times. (For example, the well-preserved iron coffle or "chain for six slaves" on display in the Manchester Museum from the 1st century BC.) However, iron collars were also used by the Romans to identify slaves and even give 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), and to some extent in American plantation slavery.
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