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In a BDSM context, a collar is a device of any material placed around the neck of the submissive partner. It is also a term used to show ownership of one partner by another. A person wearing a collar to symbolize their relationship with another is said to be collared. Some people conduct formal "collaring ceremonies," which are regarded as effectively solemnizing their relationship in a similar way as a marriage ceremony. The standard form of a collar is a black leather band around the neck and often has metal D-rings added to allow the attachment of a leash.
Collars may be used in role-playing games involving humiliation because they have connotations of control and pet-like status, especially when worn with a leash.
Construction and appearance
The most common material for a collar is leather, and many people use actual dog collars with a buckle. Other materials include rubber, PVC, and metal, typically stainless steel. Many collars are constructed with several different materials, and may also be decorated in various ways. Collars often feature buckles, straps and hooks, padlocks and other attachments.
A wolf collar is a special kind of collar fitted with long spikes. Such collars were originally used to protect dogs from wolves, but wolf collars have now been adopted by the BDSM community. However, the spikes are considered to be dangerous and therefore such collars are used with care. Some wolf collars have the spikes coated in plastic for added protection.
A neck corset is a type of posture collar that incorporates stays. It is a corset-like device designed for the neck instead of the waist, but usually it is not used to compress the neck in the way that a normal corset compresses the waist, except in breathplay.
Stays incorporated in a neck corset are specially made shorter ones, used to support the weight of the head on the shoulders, while its corset structure helps in maintaining posture by keeping the chin high and the neck extended. It is often combined with a traditional corset in order to achieve better posture. 
Collars have varying degrees of significance for people in the BDSM community. A person wearing a collar may wish by doing so to make it known that she or he is submissive. Wearing a collar may similarly be a signal to others that the submissive is "owned" by or is in a relationship with a dominant, and that the wearer has been formally collared. It may also be a potently tangible symbol of the relationship itself or of the ownership the submissive is held in. A lockable collar may further symbolize a transfer of power from the submissive to the dominant holding the key.
Some submissives do not wear their collars all the time; as a fashion accessory they are becoming more common, but not sufficiently so that they would go unnoticed, particularly if worn by men. Many choose to wear their collars only when in private with their partners, or with other members of the BDSM community.
Collars can be made from lighter materials such as cotton, or heavier materials such as leather. Steel collars are also worn by some, usually women, and lockable (metal) necklaces are also regarded as a form of collar. A very few even choose to wear permanently locking collars (these click into place and have no unlocking key), that cannot be removed except by cutting the steel.
As BDSM practices are moving from the old guard leather community into middle class society the role of the collar has also changed. Increasingly couples who also practice 24/7 Dominance and submission relationships adopt collars that can be mistaken as ordinary chokers or jewelry necklaces and can be worn discreetly in public. Such items are often referred to as everyday collars in BDSM parlance. Further evolution of this migration has had groups which actively practice BDSM in a relationship but where roles are switched or not as clear as in a traditional D/s relationship. The practice of joint collaring has emerged, where both wear a collar to show their devotion to the other one and to their lifestyle. Generally the collars look alike and/or are inscribed with vows to each other, and in this instance their significance may be similar to that of a wedding ring.
In the old guard leather community there were three stages of collaring. These are still informally followed by some in the BDSM community. The "collar of consideration" was the first and roughly analogous to a pre-engagement ring. This collar could be removed at any time by the submissive with no ill will and the relationship would be ended. The "training collar" is roughly analogous to an engagement ring and indicates a deepening relationship in which the submissive is being prepared by the dominant to serve to the standards the dominant wishes. Again, the submissive may ask to be released but the break is considered more serious and painful for both parties. Finally, the "slave collar" is analogous to a wedding band and at this point the submissive is considered a formal slave and owned by the dominant. In the old guard leather community this was considered permanent with no chance to end unless the submissive was released by the dominant for some exceptional reason. Simple failure of service was not adequate since that showed a failure on the part of the dominant as well as the slave. As with engagement and wedding rings there are traditions with collars in regard to type of materials and colors that are appropriate to each type, usually becoming more elaborate.
House collars are also used in clubs, homes and in organizations that provide social spaces to protect submissives. House collars show that the submissive is under the guidance of the house and is not to be approached. This is often used with inexperienced submissives who are not ready to make their own choices yet and need time to learn.
Velcro collar is an increasingly common term, used derisively. The old guard leather community was very protocol oriented and stressed serious lifestyle involvement because of safety issues. More recently, however, email, Internet chat rooms and instant messaging services allowed the curious to participate in casual (and often anonymous) D/s relationships online. The velcro reference indicates the tendency for online dominants and submissives to have new online collaring ceremonies frequently and without regard for existing relationships which end as easily as not logging in.
Other wearers of collars
Although in many instances collars are worn solely by a submissive partner in a relationship with a dominant, in some rare cases the dominant partner or an unattached person may also wear a collar.
In more mainstream culture and especially in pornography, images depicting women wearing collars are common regardless of whether these women are intended to be depicted as submissive or dominant. This is sometimes cited by feminists and people concerned for women's rights as a symptom of perceived oppression by the social patriarchy; that even dominant women are, in fact, submissive by virtue of their gender.
Collars and other BDSM clothing can also be found in certain subcultures such as goth or punk. These collars are often similar to wolf collars mentioned above and match their other spike adorned accessories such as bracelets, though it may also mean they are into BDSM or it's worn as a subtle ironic rebellion to dominant (regular, mainstream, etc.) society.
In some social groups, one is expected to follow certain rules regarding a collared person. A person should ask if he or she wants to be collared. The collar itself is often owned and affixed by the dominant and treated as a symbol of the highest respect.
- Collars: Who, What and Why
- Collars article on Wipipedia, a GFDL-licenced specialist BDSM Wiki
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