The plus of the neck: the beauty of the choker necklace
On the Met Gala red carpet in May, celebrities took a loose approach to the Gilded Glamor theme, which referenced the Golden Age, America’s late 19th-century period of excess. Not Billie Eilish. The American singer, wrapped in a recycled ivory and pistachio corseted dress, custom-made by Gucci, has earned comparisons to the 1885 portrait of Madame Paul Poirson by painter John Singer Sargent, which captured many of the fashion ensembles of the end-of-the-century era. The dress was on point, but it was Eilish’s vintage choker by jeweler Fred Leighton, a black band with drooping diamonds, that cemented the Golden Age reference.
Long necklaces were very popular at the end of the 19th century, when they were used to accessorize the low neckline typical of evening dresses of the time. Also known as dog collars, or dog collars, styles popular at the time included strips of fabric decorated with a center plate similar to the style worn by Eilish, hinged bands made of gemstones, and collars made of rows of pearls encircling the neck of the wearer up to the chin. As the name suggests, and as anyone who’s worn one for more than two hours can attest, this style of collar isn’t particularly comfortable. Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American socialite who became Duchess of Marlborough in 1895, owned one made up of 19 strands of pearls. In his autobiography, glitter and goldshe candidly wrote that her dog collar still gave her a “scratchy neck.”
Despite the discomfort, chokers have steadily gone out of fashion throughout history. The British Museum has an ancient example dating to 2600 BC, from Ur in southern Iraq. In his book Jewels of the Pharaohs, Cyril Aldred writes that pearl necklaces tied with cords were worn by women during the Old Kingdom, between 2700 BC and 2200 BC. Neck rings, which the Celts called torcs, have been worn for centuries in African and Asian cultures.
There is an implicit association between headscarves, sexuality and violence. As Marcia Pointon writes in Brilliant Effects: A Cultural History of Gemstones and Jewelry, “The neck is both a very vulnerable part of the body and, in women, one of the focal points of beauty and sexual desire. . . what surrounds it decoratively turns easily into suggestions of strangulation or beheading. . . the choker jewel that became fashionable in the 19th century and known as the “choker” explicitly alludes to the asphyxiation that its visual form implies.
A brief look at history will show that necklaces have not always had the easiest associations. They have been linked to prostitution, most notably in Édouard Manet’s painting “Olympia” from 1863, which depicts a naked woman wearing only a thin black string tied around her neck. In the 1970s, the choker became a symbol of rebellion, co-opted by the punk movement, which favored spiked leather dog collars, sometimes supplemented with leashes and S&M references. In the 17th century, mourning and sentimental jewelry was worn around the neck in the manner of a choker, often adorned with ribbon loops as a memento mori, a custom that tinged chokers with morbidity. Mourning jewelry, often including hair, was later revived in the Victorian era. “There are many examples of necklaces woven from human hair, which women tie around their necks,” says jewelry historian Hayden Peters, founder of online platform The Art of Mourning.
Death and beheading feels uneasy when looking at a portrait of Anne Boleyn, painted by an unknown artist in the 16th century, wearing a strikingly modern beaded choker adorned with a letter “B” pendant. The necklace, however, could have been the result of a gesture of love from King Henry VIII. According A jewelry story by Joan Evans, the King was fond of the use of initials in jewelry and owned a carcanet, as collars were called in the Renaissance, with the initials H and K, for himself and his first wife Katherine of Aragon. Carcanets were also donned by two other wives of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, and his daughter Mary I, and were common throughout the Tudor period.
Unsurprisingly, for much of history chokers have grown in popularity in conjunction with changes in attire that highlight women’s necklines, adding to the erotic association of adornment. This was most evident in the 18th century, when women’s fashion in Europe was dominated by Marie Antoinette-style low-cut corsets. As seen in numerous portraits, the French queen wore many popular styles, including ruffled ribbons, tied bands with voluminous bows under the chin, simple pearl necklaces, and openwork bands with a central dangling pendant. Openwork bands can also be worn in slaverywith other dangling elements, such as pearl festoons and pendants, attached to the choker encircling the neck.
The association between scarves and royalty is enduring. “Much of the choker’s popularity has to do with the fact that so many British royalty have embraced it,” says curator and archivist Annamarie Sandecki. It was Alexandra, Princess of Wales and later Queen Consort of the United Kingdom, who popularized the choker in the 19th century. She is said to have preferred the style because it covered a scar she had around her neck and she was depicted wearing all sorts of necklaces, from simple black ribbons adorned with a single pendant or brooch, in the modest Victorian style, with rich diamond. pearl strand bands and necklaces. Queen Mary, who succeeded Queen Alexandra, was a fan of choker necklaces, often pairing them with other necklaces, as early 20th century fashion dictated.
Lady Diana Spencer, like Alexandra nearly a century before, sparked a choker frenzy in the 1980s. jewelry as centrepieces. Even turn-of-the-century velvet ribbons with jewels pinned in the center, once worn only by dowagers, have reappeared,” wrote The New York Times in 1983. “The current trend appears to have begun when the Princess of Wales wore a pearl necklace as she left for her honeymoon in July 1981.”
“The choker is associated with everything from power and violence to femininity and wealth,” says vintage jeweler Susan Caplan, a lover of necklaces. Her store sees a steady stream of choker sales, which can peak 30% when the style hits the catwalks. Many fashion designers have used chokers in their collections, including Chanel and John Galliano for Dior in the 1990s and Vivienne Westwood, who above all modernized, radicalized and eroticized the saccharine corset and choker combination of the 18th century. century in his Spring/Summer 1990 “Portrait”. the collection. For Gucci’s latest cruise collection, shown in May in Italy’s Puglia, models wore beaded necklaces that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Duchess of Marlborough, as well as spiked necklaces reminiscent of the punk era. .
It is perhaps this constant tension between high and low, tradition and subversion, protection (of the neck) and exposure (of the neckline) that has made the choker one of the most captivating jewelry styles in history. , allowing for its continued reinvention. Tight around the neck, they can give the pleasant thrill of defiance and rebellion, and the weight of history.
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