Chokers for days: the intricate history of the choker

Chokers for days: the intricate history of the choker

Authored By RetroStyleShop Team

Let’s once again step into our trusty time machine and have a look throughout the ages at one of our favorite pieces of jewelery  – the choker. There’s no doubt about the fact that this accessory has made a big comeback over the past few years, in comparison to previous years where it had been put somewhat on the back burner after the previous popularity in the 1990s. Everywhere you look you can see chokers of all kinds – the black ribbon choker, the tattoo choker so iconic to the 90s, and even the wide, bedazzled choker for a glamorous look. Today we’re focusing on the origin, history and evolution of the choker throughout recorder history, from the first possible evidences of its existence to more modern times. From connections to prostitution during the 19th century to a favorite type of necklace among the Victorian ladies, the choker has stuck with us for quite some time now and has come back into fashion time and time again over the centuries.

Let’s start with the basics, though – what exactly constitutes a choker? Though chokers can look in many different ways and be made form different materials – gold, satin, velvet –  the fit of this particular piece of jewelery is what sets it apart from others. The choker itself differs from longer necklaces and types of jewelery by its close, almost constricting fit around the neck. Instead of drawing attention to the bodice of a gown or the clothing you’re wearing, as a longer necklace would, a choker emphasizes the neck, its width and also to an extent its frailty. The choker can both cover and highlight the neck and  has even been tied to violent imagery concerning the frailty and importance of having one’s neck attached to your shoulders. During the French Revolution, for instance, a red ribbon around the neck was tied to the imagery of decapitation – people at the time would wear such ribbons to show their respects for the victims of the guillotine. On the opposite end of the spectrum, choker style necklaces were worn by Native Americans to protect the fragile neck of those doing battle. The tight fit of this necklace is thus connected to certain imagery and protective qualities that a longer necklace does not allow for in the same way.

The earliest recorded uses of a choker necklace was probably also, in fact, connected to protection of a certain kind, though evidence of this is of course difficult to come across. Chokers date back to ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Western Africa. Though we can’t know much about the fashion of the day, these types of necklaces were used as decoration and it has also been speculated, perhaps also as protective amulets, since ancient jewelery often shows ties to spiritual practices. The fact that the chokers were wound around a part of the body that needs protection has also contributed to this view.


If we fast forward a bit, chokers have been a staple piece of jewelry in the last couple of hundred years, though they’ve come in and out of fashion. They were worn during the Renaissance, and were usually tied to high fashion, but the most iconic images of the choker come later. As we mentioned, the French revolution brought a new meaning to ribbons around the neck, and later on the choker was associated with prostitution, largely because of Manet’s painting Olympia from 1861, which depicts a nude woman with a ribbon around her neck. The choker has also, however, been associated with ballerinas, as seen in various other paintings of the time.

During the 19th century the choker fashion really took off once again, and it had one of its most popular  phases. By 1900 the wider choker was in style and British queen Alexandra, who frequently wore a choker to hide a scar on her neck greatly contributed to the choker’s boom.  Chokers were again popular in the 1920s, and we also saw the choker as a popular fashion piece once more with the so called “dog collars” of the 1940s. This was the time that chokers really shone – literally –  because of all the sparkly diamonds and pearls that often covered them. Velvet and lace were popular fabrics for chokers at the time.

Nowadays the choker is usually connected to trends of the 1990s, when choker necklaces became a key fashion item of the time. Grunge, goth and less ‘put-together’ clothing is associated with the choker of this time, though the bejeweled choker also had its time on the red carpet. Perhaps the most iconic choker that also has made an interesting comeback today, is the plastic choker – the tattoo choker, which put a new twist on already existing chokers, and one could also see statement belt-like chokers with big, chunky buckles in the front.

Steampunk Belt Necklace

Today the choker has had another comeback – this time in many various forms, mostly because of the new-found interest in the fashion of the turn of the century. Velvet, ribbon, bejeweled, or metal – the choker comes in many different styles. This type of necklace is definitely nothing new, but history has showed how varied it can be. So pick your favorite one, and let’s wear some chokers. Whether you decide to wear it in a nod to Victorian fashion, or in a more modern way, chokers are chameleons that have survived the lapse of time.

Check out some of our steampunk chokers here.


Cover image by Atelier Adèle, Vienna.

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