Collars can carry as many meanings as there are people to share them, but generally they are a few well accepted archetypes within the greater BDSM community. However, even these can be somewhat confusing and entirely open to interpretation.
From my perspective, in my experience, and in my opinion, the three major archetypes are the Slave Collar, the Play Collar, and the Training Collar.
The Slave Collar is the most common within the BDSM community, and in fact, in most cases when a person is talking about having a collar, being collared, or collaring someone, this is what they are talking about. Symbolically, this is intended to denote ownership.
Generally the person wearing the collar symbolically become the property of the person who placed the collar around the slave’s neck. If I were to collar you with a slave collar, I would refer to the collar as ‘my collar’ and I might tell others that you wear my collar when defining our relationship.
While wearing my collar, you are my property, and the moment I take it off of you or permit you to remove it, that relationship ceases to exist.
For this reason, a slave collar generally never comes off except to be momentarily replaced with another collar. There may be more than one collar to fill this role… for instance, one might have a collar that is worn only in private or around other kinky folks but is a bit too obvious for daily outside wear – this is generally referred to as the ‘slave collar’, ‘private collar,’ or even simply ‘His collar.’ Additionally, one might have a necklace with a lock pendant or some other indicator of its true purpose but that is less obvious to the uninitiated. This is typically referred to as a ‘day collar,’ or ‘public collar.’
The term ‘Play Collar’ can have a couple of different meanings. Generally this is used to either mean a collar that is used for a short duration – usually only the length of a single scene. This can either be because the collared person is not actually your property – you are assuming that set of roles for the scene only – or because that person has a regular slave collar and the play collar is different in some way that facilitates your play.
For instance, I once had a rather chunky leather posture collar with three rings on it. It would not make sense as a regular wear collar because it forces my property to keep her chin up at all times, which would make negotiating the world somewhat difficult, but sometimes that is exactly what I want. It also has more attachment points on it, and sometimes you just need to shackle your property’s ankles to her neck, you know?
The Training Collar is a bit more uncommon and bit more nebulously defined. It sits somewhere between the two listed above.
Where the Slave Collar is meant to be eternal and the Play Collar is meant to be used only for a short time, the Training Collar is meant to be used until the subject under consideration is either accepted or rejected.
The Training Collar is usually replaced with a Slave Collar or discarded entirely, depending upon the results of the training in question.
During a training period, there may be an equivalent ‘private collar’ and ‘day collar’ pair, but usually at least one of the two is intended to be replaced once the training is completed.
The training collar comes off and on a lot more frequently than the slave collar, and indeed, the right to wear the collar might be considered as part of the rewards to the sub during training.
For these reasons, Slave Collars (and their corresponding ‘day collars’) are generally well made, expensive, eternal sorts of items. I’ve purchased and used Slave Collars made from leather, stainless steel, even titanium and day collars made from silver or gold. Though of course, they can be made from anything at all.
Training collars are generally intended to be rugged enough to wear for a long time, but will eventually be replaced and are generally good quality but not jewelry level pieces. I’ve used leather for these most commonly, but rubber, vinyl, or neoprene are also quite common.
Play collars really run the gamut, are often more interesting or gaudy than their longer wear counterparts, might often be used by more than one person, and can be anything from a piece of string or a ribbon to a dog collar made from nylon or fake leather, or even heavy pieces of wrought iron and chain.
It is important to note, however, that nothing about the materials that are used to make the collar can be inferred to denote the type of collar that it represents. That is entirely up to the participants and their own particular aesthetic.
The most important thing though, and the thing that brings all of this together, is that all of these collars (and possibly others of which I am completely unaware) are intended to be powerful symbols that establish Dominance.
The collar is meant to be owned by the Dominant partner, and whether it is purchased by him or not before the power exchange takes place, it is understood that he is the Owner and Controller of the collar.
When he puts it on the submissive partner, he is symbolically establishing his Dominance, and the collar itself is intended to serve as a reminder to the submissive partner of his submission. While the collar is in place, this is intended to be an absolute (subject to negotiated parameters) transfer of power.
I used to be what one might consider a ‘High Protocol Dom.’ By this, I mean that I used to establish a set of rules and expectations that I had for my property. While you were wearing my collar, you would be expected to carry out my instructions exactly, you would be expected to anticipate my desires and fulfill them prior to being asked, you would be expected to understand what I mean when I call, “Front!” and to comply immediately.
The days of High Protocol seem to be waning, and I am not so strict any longer. Hierarchy and order are important, but I find that as I grow older, these things are less and less compatible with my worldview.
In fact, I’m coming to believe that Hierarchy may be harmful… But this is not an article on Protocol or Hierarchy.
Today, for myself and most of the others that I’ve had the opportunity to witness lately, the collar is more an expression of partnering and position than anything else. It can be used as a reminder to fulfill a role, but it’s not typically used in the way that I was originally taught, and even my own use of collars has recently been much more lax than it used to be, but the collar is still a useful reminder and tool.
As with everything in BDSM, these things are evolving. As a former High Protocol Dom, some of these new, more relaxed ways of handling things chafe a bit.
I see something that would have been corrected in my past life and I let it pass because the current paradigm does not place the same level of importance on these things, and there are a great many things about the current paradigm that I find myself enjoying lately.
BDSM is making it’s way into the mainstream, and things like this must happen for that transition to take place.
Where once power transfer and authority were the forces that drove me, now I find that inclusion and compassion are the things that I crave most. Devotion remains my main kink, but I am learning that it may take more forms than that to which I was most accustomed.
Still though, if you’re wearing my collar, you can expect me to point out that fact every once in awhile, and to urge you to think about what it represents or even use it for corrective action when required.
I may be taking a trip down the path of Hedonism lately, but I don’t see those things as wrong or incompatible. BDSM is evolving, and so am I.