Choker necklaces have literally fallen out of fashion for thousands of years.
Long before they were worn around the necks of Goth girls in the 1990s or made popular by the Princess of Wales in the late 1800s, chokers were worn by women in ancient civilizations to protect what even then they considered a very important piece. body, neck.
The choker is an accessory that crosses many cultures, including African, Indian and Western, as well as class distinctions.
With necklaces back on the rise, Yvonne Markowitz, Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan, Curator Emeritus at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Jewelry in Boston, recently took the time to talk to us about the history of neck jewelry. in the world of jewelry.
Who first started wearing chokers? The history of the necklace goes back thousands of years, starting with the world’s oldest civilizations, the Sumerian Empire in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.
Markowitz said women in both of these ancient worlds wore chokers, often paired with other necklaces, for the same reason they wore all jewelry—to protect themselves and gain magical power.
“Many ancient jewelry,” she noted, “protects and preserves.”
They put jewelry on those parts of the body that, in their opinion, needed protection – the throat, head, hands and ankles – and believed that this endowed them with special powers. This was especially true of gold jewelry, which the ancient peoples associated with the sun, and lapis lazuli, which the Egyptians associated with the life-giving power of the Nile River.
Markowitz said that women in Egypt also wore chokers, which consisted of four to six rows of beads held together with vertical spacers in a zigzag pattern.
When did choker necklaces come back “into fashion” after that? In Western culture, high jewelry necklaces can be seen again and again throughout history, including during the Renaissance, with portraits of the time depicting necklaces worn high around the neck.
“The style had its highlights,” Markowitz said, “and I guess the next big moment was in the late 19th century.”
As is often the case in the world of fashion and jewelry, the proximity of a very public figure has contributed to the choker’s resurgence.
Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925) was on the British throne as the wife of King Edward VII from 1901 to 1910, and before that spent about 38 years as Princess of Wales.
During her reign, she became an influential figure in the fashion world and popularized one of her favorite pieces of jewelry, the choker necklace.
A story that has been told over the years is that Alexandra wore chokers to hide a baby scar on her neck, although Markowitz noted that the story of the queen’s scar was never confirmed.
However, if this is true, Alexandra would not be the only woman of her time who used her jewelry to hide imperfections.
The collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London includes a Kropfkette (crop chain) made in Austria sometime between 1840 and 1870.
Croppketts were chokers consisting of several rows of chains with a large front clasp. Women in southern Germany and Austria wore them to hide bumps on their necks caused by goiter, an iodine deficiency disease common among those who lived high in the Alps.
However, these necklaces were not as fantastic as those worn by Alexandra; they were silver and often decorated with garnets.
Markowitz said chokers remained popular during the Art Nouveau period — René Lalique created some of the most beautiful ever made, she says — and well into the 1920s, which became known as “dog collars” along the way. . (She said that Sir Charles Leonard Woolley gave them that name after excavating the Royal Cemetery at Ur, which was once Mesopotamia.)
In America, the Astors wore long pearl necklaces with several strands of pearls wrapped around their necks, while others wore a simple black band.
Then, as the Art Deco era faded in the 1930s, “(chokers) pretty much went away,” she said.
While there have been occasional revivals in popular culture—beaded chokers from the hippie era and plastic-tattoo chokers from the 1990s are two examples that come to mind—chokers made from quality materials have never really caught on. former popularity.
“It’s not the most comfortable piece of jewelry to wear, and it also has to fit well, unless it’s something with string or fabric to fit around the neck,” Markowitz said.
Today, chokers are gaining momentum again along with their seemingly more comfortable and easy-to-fit cousin, the collar, with both fine and trendy pieces making their way into stores.