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Noch eine schönen Tag noch Master
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 Meaning of the Collar

By Rev on August 25, 2014



“The Collar”

“I’ve been collared.”

“Collar me.”

“They’re wearing my collar.”

 

If you’ve been around more than a week, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve heard of, read about, and/or seen in action, the idea of “the collar” by now. There is no doubt that it’s one of the most powerful symbols in the BDSM community.

 

Where Did it Come From?

The general belief is that the idea of the collar was adopted by the BDSM community from cultures who historically had slaves that wore collars to show their status as owned property. Some sources claim that in the original leather community (which some call the “Old Guard”) there may have been more formal systems for the use of collars related to a system of education and experience that determined who wore one and what type. Others say “not so”. Some of the information seems to conflict. So, maybe it was never really all that uniform anyway, even historically in the leather community.

 

What Does it Mean Now?

If there was traditionally any kind of general uniform meaning attributed to the collar, then it’s changed dramatically over time. Today, the collar can have a multitude of meanings and its appearance can be as varied as the people using it. At its most basic, it’s similar in many ways to the idea of “the wedding ring” in terms of the many associations it has for most of us. We see it in the photos, we read of the excitement of those who’ve received or given one, and if we’re paying attention, we may even be a little confused about just what it all means.

And we should be. Unlike “the wedding ring”, the collar doesn’t have a specific, consistent meaning. The idea of it packs the same psychological and emotional punch in some ways, but pinning down just what it symbolizes is a lot more difficult. Of course, weddings, marriage and wedding rings can also mean different things to different people to some degree, but it doesn’t (mostly) consistently mean that the wearers are married to each other in the legal sense. I say “mostly” because there are some exceptions- domestic partners may wear wedding rings that don’t necessarily carry the same weight legally, as well as those who are married to each other but not legally- some pagan ceremonies, for example, handfastings, and other non-legal marriages. I wear a wedding ring that I got for myself some years ago, after deciding I wanted to symbolize my commitment to myself and my well being, as my primary partner.

Yes, I had a ceremony and everything. It was lovely. Don’t snicker.

But while there are some exceptions, the wedding ring is more universally understood to mean “legal, binding, serious commitment to a long term relationship” in some way.

Not so much with the idea of “The Collar” in the BDSM world. I think a lot of us assume it symbolizes something like a wedding ring- I know I did when I was new- and it does in fact for many people. But not everyone and it’s important to know that. Like all the terms we use in the kink world, it’s important to think about what it means to us personally and talk about that with our partners.

 

Some Possible Meanings for Collars

 

1. D/s Commitment: Master/slave, Dominant/submissive, these collars symbolize a commitment for the couple using it, a commitment they’ve defined together. It may or may not have involved a “collaring ceremony”.

2. Consideration: Sometimes a submissive or slave that’s under consideration by a Dominant will wear their collar. For the record, while we commonly say that the Dominant is considering the submissive, it is a given that the submissive is also considering the Dominant.

3. Play Collar: This is what we might call it when the bottom, submissive or slave only wears a collar while “in scene” with a Top, Dominant or Master. It can be a symbol to the players that the scene has begun, that they are currently in D/s mode, meaning they aren’t when not in scene, when the collar is off. As well as a potentially powerful part of the beginning ritual, it can also be a handy way to physically control someone who’s the bottom in the scene.

4. Situational Collar: Sometimes a person will wear someone’s collar for a short period of time, at a party or gathering say, when they want to be shown to be under their protection for that event or for the period of time when the collar is worn.

5. Identity Collar: Some people wear collars to show that they identify as submissive or slave. They might be single, available and looking for a Dominant partner. In this case, the collar means nothing more than that.

6. Pet Play: For example, dog and kitty collars for those who like pet play. If that’s the context for the collar you’re looking at, it will probably be obvious. If unsure, try tossing a ball or dangling something stringy.

 

Clear as mud? Yeah. I know.

You may run across other ways that collars are used. Oh yeah, like fashion. In fact, many people are wearing “every day collars” now (a collar that isn’t obviously a collar, but means the same thing- something you can wear at the office without causing comment) and that can make it tough to tell if you are indeed looking at a collar or not. An everyday collar can look like a choker, a simple chain or necklace. If I’m at a gathering of BDSM, leather or kinky folk, I’ll ask if I’m not sure. Most people wearing a collar are happy to tell you about it and have it admired.

So, don’t assume that cool necklace is a collar, but don’t assume it’s not either.

What About Etiquette?

Collars can call for special etiquette in some circles. I wish I could give you a definite picture of what that etiquette is. I’ve mostly hung around the kink community on the West Coast, where things are pretty informal or “low protocol” (aka “relaxed protocol”). I make an effort to be aware of possible etiquette though. For example, if I’m talking to a couple and one is wearing a collar, I’ll ask their partner if it’s okay to speak with them. Also, a person wearing a collar will (ideally) be well aware of what their instructions are, so if you speak to them and they aren’t allowed to speak to you, they won’t. Don’t be offended if that happens- they’re just being obedient. Sometimes, they’ll be allowed to talk to you once their Master, Dominant or Owner has “cleared” you.

Some areas observe a “high protocol” and will have definite rules about how to deal with someone wearing a collar. For example, I love protocol parties and gatherings. There’s usually a pretty clear list of rules that explain the protocol ahead of time and everyone is helpful in coaching me along until I get it right. Really, in my opinion, any reasonable humans won’t expect you just to know what their protocol is, given that it varies so much.

As a general practice, if you’re new to a group or a party, find out if there are protocol rules for collars or anything else, and what they are. There will usually be some tools in place to make them clear and people to answer questions. Most of the time, I’ve found folks to be very kind in helping me learn the “lay of the land”, as it were. Having a friendly mentor type person in your community that you can talk to really helps, in this and many other cases. Frankly, people who get angry at you over protocol slips when you’re new are being jerks. We’re all new to something at some point. We’ve got to learn somehow and some of us catch on quicker than others.

 

Assume Nothing

As usual, eh? “Assume nothing” serves me well in most of my life. The collar can be a powerful symbol; it can also be a convenient play toy. There’s no right way to define what they mean. But you definitely want to make sure you talk terms when you’re talking with a (romantic, play or life) partner of your own. What you don’t want is to find out that that play collar you just put on your bottom for a scene means something more serious to them when that’s not where you’re coming from, or vice verse.

Talk, talk and talk some more. Talking is sexy.

The beast and I have a collar we use for scenes and for times when we want to be “in dynamic” for a period of time. We aren’t 24/7 and whether or not he’s wearing the collar symbolizes for us, whether we’re “on” or “off”. We’ve talked about a permanent collar, as in I-collar-him, but I’m not ready for that yet. For me, it means a pretty serious commitment. I’m committed to him now, but there are also some ways I’d need us to grow and others I need us to get more stable before I make the step of “collaring”. For me, it’s very similar in meaning to a wedding ring and I need to be more sure that a thing is the right thing (not forever, but… right for long term). In the meantime, it’s very powerful to play with and has become an important part of our ritual for signaling when we’re entering D/s space together.

 

As always, mileage may vary. This is just my own opinion about what I know so far.
What’s your experience with collars been? Questions or stories? I’d love to hear from you.

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