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Collars and Traditions
Everything you wanted to know about collars and then some.

Includes: A special concern about the dilution old traditions.


Collars, collars everywhere...
but what are they and why do we use them?

Recently we had a firestorm of activity on our bulletin board concerning collars.  It's a subject often asked about and one that seems to generate many different responses from the community.  I'm not going to claim to have all the answers on this topic or try to write a document to use as a standard for the D/s, BDSM lifestyle.  However, I will try to share what we've learned in our own experiences during our journey into the realm of dominance and submission.

A collar is extremely significant in our lifestyle, no matter in what group you find yourself.  It not only identifies the person wearing it as a member of the lifestyle, it indicates they are submissive and belong to someone.  From this point we start to find a lot of gray areas in today's use of the collar.  I'll try to expand on some types, common factors and the major differences as this moves along.

The Collar of Ownership

The most common type of collar is the collar of ownership.  It signifies a relationship has formed between the submissive and dominant and the exclusive rights to the submissive belong to the owner of the collar she/he is wearing. The symbolism of a collar is steeped in tradition and is the outward symbol of the commitment made by the dominant and submissive.  It marks her/him as the property of another, much the same way a wedding ring does for our vanilla counterparts. The collar ALWAYS remains the property of the dominant and if the relationship fails, the collar is returned to the owner1.  Accepting or giving a collar is not something to be taken lightly in this lifestyle.  It denotes a deep commitment between the submissive and dominant, and from the moment the collar is locked in place, the dominant is viewed as the submissive's master or mistress.

The style of this type of collar is as individual as the people who use it.  Often it is leather with metal adornment and usually locks in place, making it impossible for anyone but the submissive's owner to remove it2,3.  It commonly has at least one ring to allow a leash to be attached when needed.  Some couples prefer not to use the standard style and opt for something a bit more fashionable.  One of the options is a silver or gold ring that forms a solid circle once it is joined by a skilled metal smith or jeweler.  The only way it can be removed is to cut the metal.  (Note that caution must be used if choosing this style.   Allow for weight gain or swelling and keep a careful watch it does not become tight.  It should move freely and have enough space to easily fit the fingers of one hand between the collar and the throat.  It's also important to keep a tool that can cut the collar quickly if needed.)

Most couples have more than one collar in their wardrobe of lifestyle trappings.  It is often not possible for the submissive to wear his/her collar in public so an alternative is needed.  It can be a piece of jewelry, such as a necklace or anklet, or it may take the form of one of the decorative collars we see so frequently in fashion trends.  What it looks like is unimportant as long as it has symbolic significance to the couple involved.

Training Collar

Novice submissives often wear a plain leather collar, with one or more rings, during their training period. This collar does not indicate ownership or any special bond between the submissive and the trainer4. It isn't worn outside the "classroom", so to speak. The purpose of this collar is to allow the submissive to feel some of the control that she/he will surrender and to experience a taste of the emotions evoked when a power exchange takes place. Many of the typical disciplines and activities of the lifestyle involve using a collar for sending signals to the submissive when he/she is doing something incorrectly or to gain their attention. A slight jerk on a leash attached to a collar helps center the submissive or signals them of the dominant's expectations, much the way a collar is used to train a dog in obedience skills. In short, this kind of collar is a working tool and nothing more.

Training collars are typically unattractive and rather sturdy.  They're going to be used to train, not be a fashion statement.  Sometimes the training collar is kept by the submissive and later used for typical lifestyle activities when she/he is in a relationship with a dominant.

Special Collars

Many D/s couples have a variety of collars suited for special situations.  If the couple enjoys the "puppy girl/boy" scene, they may own a common dog collar and leash for those times the submissive is in role as a human puppy for her Master's pleasure.  Another type of collar might be a heavy duty bondage collar used when the dominant wants to demonstrate his/her total control by using the collar as a connecting point for locking cuffs, restraints, chains or any number of useful toys, to the submissive's collar.  Wide, restricting collars with posture bar attachments are used to correct a submissive's posture and poise as well as providing their own unique control that can be enjoyed by the dominant and submissive.  Check one of the online catalogs for a view of these types of collars.   As you can see there are almost limitless uses for variety of collars you can find if you do some shopping.

Other Collars and Different Views

A couple of new issues have sprung up as a result of the ongoing threads about collars and what is and what is not valid as far as collars go.  The primary debate stems from the use of a collar known now as the "collar of consideration."

Let me say first that there are many different styles and views in this lifestyle today. Many years ago there were only two standards on which to base any formal lifestyle activities: The Oriental Society and the European Council. Things were pretty black and white then. These "old houses" maintained the traditions that had been handed down for generations and carefully guarded the purity of the guidelines for their beliefs and behaviors. These two groups varied considerably in methods and philosophy and we've discussed those differences in a couple of the articles posted in the Castle Realm Library.

Our affiliation has been with the Society and it is their style and standards we tend to follow in our own relationship. While we may have some basic knowledge of the European methods (the Old Guard seems to have traditions most resembling this group5), we do not know or pretend to know all of their rituals and traditions.   All we can say is this: In our intermingling with other groups and in our own circles, there is no mention of a "collar of consideration" anywhere. The only reference we've seen comes from one article written by Mistress Steel. (We thank her for sharing it with us by publishing it.)

Now, does this mean there is no basis in truth or fact for the collar of consideration? No, it doesn't.  I'm sure there are literally thousands of different ideas practiced by some of the "houses" in both of the old groups and it is well within the realm of believability that this collar existed and still exists today in certain groups.  I can cite an example of this in something we've added to the Library, "The Ceremony of the Roses." This beautiful ritual was part of the group of houses in which we have roots, but isn't part of the entire Oriental Society's teachings. Each group has their own special traditions and ceremonies that have their own unique origin but still adhere to the standards of the Society as a whole.

Ultimately each one of us has to decide what we want to incorporate into our own relationships and lifestyle.  I'm safe in saying that very few people reading this will ever be associated with one of the old groups anyway.  Most are going to be living their lifestyle on an individual and personal basis.  If the idea of a "collar of consideration" appeals to you, then you should embrace it as part of your own special way to express your dominance and submission. I personally enjoyed reading about the idea and thought it seemed to be a beautiful idea that could serve some couples quite nicely.  Where or when it began should not hinder your use of it in your own relationship.

Cyber collars are another phenomena that we've seen become an accepted standard to the online D/s community.  Their validity is only as meaningful as the people involved so we see some pretty wide variations in the behavior and expectations of those using them.  To some, they are as significant as one made of leather and steel and lovingly placed around the neck of the devoted submissive by a responsible dominant.  To others, they're as disposable as toilet paper and mean little but a means of getting attention and some sure-score cybersex.  Again, it's up to you to use it or abuse it.

What's Right For Me?

You should ask yourself these questions about any idea or practice you are considering: Will it benefit me, my partner and our relationship? Does it feel "right" to us? Do we want/need this as part of our own traditions and beliefs? Does it make us happy and enrich our lives together as a D/s couple? Does it adhere to the Safe, Sane and Consensual credo? If you can answer yes to those questions, and it harms no one else in doing so, then by all means include it as part of your unique style. You do not need to justify your choices to anyone else nor do you need to prove it is part of some ancient tradition for it to have meaning.  Do it because YOU enjoy it. The heck with what anyone else thinks.

Some additional information on collars found in "The Collaring Ceremony" in our Library.

A Special Concern

We live in a rapidly expanding world and the ability to easily share information via the Internet and other media has opened new doors to things that were unavailable only a few years ago. This has been both a blessing and a curse. The blessing: We have readily available information and free-flowing exchange of ideas. The curse: Many of the old traditions and beliefs have been distorted and diluted because they've been altered and inbred with the "new age" lifestyle.  My fear is this; in a few years we may not be able to sort the old traditions from the modernized versions.  It won't be the end of the lifestyle but there will certainly be a loss of structure that made the formal lifestyle so appealing to some of us.

For decades, old groups carefully screened their membership and activities to maintain their societies.  Things have changed in recent years with the openness of sexual practices that where once hidden from view.   An example of this is mentioned in the following quotes from "Different Loving" by Brame, Brame and Jacobs:

"Leathermen did not generally welcome public attention. Entering their society was intentionally made difficult.  Each newcomer had to prove his worth in a controlled social environment where experienced people guided him through a lengthy training period.  Failure to abide by the complex unwritten rules governing dress and demeanor meant at least a lessening of social status and at worst ostracization.   This social milieu has since come to be known as the Old Guard, and networking was among its key social regulators."---Brame.

"Although Old Guard conventions continue to influence gay and straight leather and the D&S communities, its rigorous etiquette has been considerably diluted.  This is largely attributed to a sizable influx of men (and women) who seek sexual acceptance among their peers.  The very things that made the Old Guard strong---a highly evolved social structure and a sense of community---attracted new members and , ultimately, contributed to its demise."---Brame.

"There is an influx of endless numbers of curious people; there are more people showing up at play parties and the bars than could possibly be assimilated.   In my view, for the S/M community to remain somewhat underground and somewhat unaccepted so that people have to approach warily and have to prove themselves as trustworthy individuals, is in fact a very high value for the community."---Joseph Bean

Different Loving by Brame, Brame and Jacobs - Villard Books, 1996.
Chapter 2, page 31

With so many people claiming to have inside information and disclosing secret traditions rooted more in fiction than truth, I have to wonder how the next decade is going to change the social structure of our lifestyle.   To those who see D/s as only a diversion or series of activities to spice up their lives, there won't likely be many changes.  But to those of us who cherish the rituals and traditions that once formed the foundation of our chosen way of life, there's going to changes that will lessen the fiber of a once-strong cloak of respectability that surrounded us.  It's important for all of us to be honest in our views and shared information.  If you found something in a novel about Gor or in the Story of O, please don't create a story about how it began and add more confusion to those who will follow you.  Gor and Roissy are based in fantasy, but there are things in those books that can be incorporated into your own relationship and add immensely to your personal pleasures.  That's the beauty of this lifestyle.  We get to try it all and keep only what we like.  We can all share ideas and grow as a community and still not dissipate the purity of the old traditions if we don't try to blend them into one big D/s Space Odyssey Tale.  Take credit for the novelty of your own ideas.  I've seen some wonderful ones that have sprung up on mIRC channels and the respectable ones weren't afraid to say they created their own repertoire of standards and new traditions rather than pushing them off as the old ways.

Copyright© 1998 by jade
All rights are reserved by the author.


1.  Abernathy, Christina.  Miss Abernathy's Concise Slave Training Manual.  San Francisco: Greenery Press, 1996. P. 27

2ibid, P. 26

3.  Wiseman, Jay.   SM101--A Realistic Introduction.  San Francisco:  Greenery Press, 1996. P. 261

4. ibid, P. 262

5.  Baldwin, Guy.   "Old Guard: Its Origins, Traditions, Mystique and Rules."  Drummer 150: 23-25.


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