Collars are a really common symbol in kink culture. While they are mostly found on submissives, people of all roles and identities may wear one for an variety of reasons. Collars can be a really simple expression of one’s fashion sense or role in BDSM, though some folks have a very complex system for what certain collars mean in their specific community.
Generally, collars are a sign of submission—specifically among those who have a Dominant partner in their life. However, you may come to find while meeting people in the scene, that collars mean many, many different things to different people. Some Dominants wear collars, some unowned submissives wear collars, some switches wear collars, some people wear collars only during scenes, and others wear them 24/7. How do you know what one person’s specific collar means?
Fact of the matter is, the collar is a personal choice and can be worn by anyone for any reason. Assuming someone’s role and relationship status from their collar is unwise, and the best thing to do when speaking to a collared person is to ask what their collar means to them.
Collars can be divided into a few basic categories, which I will get into below. However, it’s worth mentioning that some of these categories may overlap and some people have other specific reasons for wearing their collar, so keep in mind that this list is not a limitation of different types of collars, but merely some basic examples.
- Fashion: Some people use collars with no particular meaning for fashion or to simply identify that they are in the BDSM scene. Many people who follow a “goth” or “punk” style of clothing wear collars regardless of their involvement in BDSM.
- Public: Public collars are often worn by submissives who need to be discreet with wearing a collar to work or around family. Most public collars are designed to be thin and resemble chokers or otherwise vanilla necklaces. Public collars do not have to adhere to a specific design so long as the couple has designated it to be a public display of one’s submission to the other.
- Play: Play collars are specifically used during sexual scenes between the Dominant and submissive. These are often much thicker and studier than public collars and may be made of leather or metal. Many play collars have O-ring or D-ring attachments for a leash or other forms of bondage.
- Identification: Although collars largely symbolize a submissive identity, there are collars specifically for Dominant roles. Some collars may have engravings or leather lettering that have specific roles clearly stated such as “Master” or “Mistress”. In gay leather culture, specific collars for tops and bottoms may be used to identify roles at munches, play parties, and leather bars.
- Consideration: For formal relationship processes, a consideration collar may be used on a submissive or slave in training with a specific Master. These collars are often more simple in design than official ownership collars, which they are rewarded with after passing or being accepted as a formal submissive/slave.
- Ownership: Ownership collars are symbols of an official relationship. Many of these collars are made of steel or other metals, especially among slaves. Pets, on the other hand, tend to use leather for their ownership collars, though no material is required for any role identity. Note that some people wear these collars as a means to say, “I’m spoken for! Don’t touch or play with me.”
- Marriage: Marriage collars are much like ownership ones in that they symbolize official relationships. Many marriage collars are more ornate, made of more expensive materials, such as gold, may be more permanent (locking), or may be engraved with a marriage date or wedding vow.
- 24/7: 24/7 collars are usually ones that have a locking mechanism, either with a padlock or a link that requires breaking to remove. They symbolizes a 24/7 relationship where the person does not ever take off their collar or end their submissive role, even out of the bedroom. Many of these collars are made of stainless steel or other waterproof metals for showering/swimming, but may also be discreet in nature for professional settings.
- Functional: Some collars feature specific functions that can be used in scenes or that work with specific kinks. Collars in this area include posture collars, which help train a submissive into a certain position, or shock collars, for masochists who like electro-play. Other collars may be lines with spikes or other materials for masochistic sensations.
Being given a collar of any type is usually a special occasion for someone in the kink community. For many people, they act as promise or engagement rings—a symbol of one’s love and devotion to another. For this reason, many people engage in what is referred to as a collaring ceremony.
A collaring ceremony isn’t a necessary event, but one that signifies a very special bond or commitment between partners. Some are mostly casual, held at play parties or privately in the home, while others are very formal and resemble a wedding with invited guests and speakers. Whether public or private, the idea of a collaring ceremony is to have an event to physically express the connection between partners and to communicate what the collar means to each other in a spoken vow.
While collars can be a very complex and significant symbol to some people, this isn’t true for everyone. People commonly feel like they’re “not allowed” to wear a collar if they’re unowned or that their collar has to look a certain way to be considered a “real collar”. Fact of the matter is, this part of kink culture is symbolic on a personal level and varies among different sub-sets of the BDSM community. You and your partner(s) are allowed to make your own rules about your collar, as you are on every aspect of play. Don’t let anyone else dictate the way you run your relationships or express your involvement in the scene.
Remember, the collar is specifically there to represent you and your kinks. It is a personal statement, and no one should influence your decisions in a negative way. Collars in the BDSM community are not a symbol of oppression, but a symbol of self-expression. Wear it with pride!