Chokers Aren't Cool Anymore
Everyone you know—including Rihanna and your least cool friend from high school—was wearing chokers last summer. We investigate why they're officially over now.
Photo by Chloe Sheppard from Polyester Magazine issue five, courtesy of Polyester magazine.
As I sit here writing this a fine, black velvet choker wraps around my neck. It is just the right size to enclose my neck comfortably without being too tight. It is narrow enough to wear with most outfits without over-powering the look completely. In the last month, I have worn this choker to meet my boyfriend's family for the first time; as part of a Glastonbury Festival ensemble my colleague Zing affectionately calls my "shotta texts" look; and to an awards ceremony (I did not win.)
It is the most versatile of accessories. Unfortunately, it is also passé. But when did the choker trend die a strangled death? Was it when Lena Dunham tweeted about buying six chokers online? Was it when Forever 21, a retailer beloved of middle-schoolers and moms alike, retailed a choker so thick it looked like a neck brace? Was it when every reality TV contestant in the world, from America's The Bachelorette to Britain's Love Island, began wearing one? Probably all of the above. We've reached peak choker, readers—it's time to accessorize in pastures new. And Broadly is partly to blame.
In September 2016, we published an article called "Why Every Single Person You Know Is Wearing Chokers Now." In it, we linked the choker's recent comeback to the resurgence of 90s trends like high-waisted jeans; overalls; designers like Alexander Wang; and celebrities like Rihanna, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner. Around the time we ran this story, other media outlets published their own takes as well.
Chokers—once a lazy but effective way to communicate you have a shapely neck and are DTF—have become an accessory beloved of suburban soccer moms and Coachella babes alike. Almost everyone I know now thinks chokers are incredibly lame and uncool, apart from my boyfriend, who agrees that they're lame and uncool but still likes it when I wear them.
Amongst my co-workers and my friend group, the consensus is generally: Chokers are uncool, but we'll continue to wear them anyway. "I wouldn't be caught dead in many types of chokers now," Zing says. I point to a plain black choker that's been drying on my desk after I accidentally dropped it in my coffee. She looks pained. "That's plain enough to be a normal accessory," she clarifies, backtracking.
Watch: The Australian Model Calling Out Fashion's Size Hierarchy
"Lace chokers, for example," she goes on, "are the sort of thing Coachella girls would wear with fringed crochet tops, denim hot pants, and bindis." My colleague Claudia agrees—but like me, she won't be hanging up her choker any time soon. "I can pinpoint the moment I realized chokers were no longer cool: When I spotted them on every Pinot Grigio-sipping suburban mom during their nights out on the town. However, cool or not, I will continue wearing my perfect choker."
Many people I spoke with believe that much of the choker hate is because they're deceptive: an accessory for girls who like to pretend they fall out of sex clubs on the weekend, but are actually bottomless Prosecco brunching with their CrossFit friends.
"They're for girls who think they're edgy but don't have an edgy bone in their body," my colleague Mitchell writes. "They're the Hot Topic of accessories!"
"If you wouldn't wear a choker in the bedroom, you shouldn't be allowed to wear it at all," Zing, who frequently wears the shit out of a BDSM collar, goes on. "And chokers by their very definition look like they should be able to choke the crap out of someone. I don't have any time for these half-assed lacy string chokers. Go hard or go home."
Not everyone was so disapproving. "I have a leather braided choker with a silver dragon clasp," commented my colleague Diana, "and I wish I was wearing it right now." When I reached out to my colleagues at i-D, features editor Tish Weinstock replied to tell me that she "looks great in a choker," which I have no reason to doubt.
Within some communities, chokers remain a staple accessory—inasmuch as any accessory can ever be a staple.
In July 2016, queer fashion magazine Polyester published an editorial which featured a model wearing a BDSM collar spelling out the words, "NOT A SUB." It poked fun at how the BDSM aesthetic—like all other underground subcultures—had been appropriated by the mainstream, to the detriment of the community it once served.
"Chokers have traditionally, within a fashion context, subverted societal norms and been a nod to subculture," Polyester editor-in-chief Ione Gamble explains. "However with the co-option of chokers as a trend, the item itself has lost this previously important context, as well as its roots in fetish wear and the fetish community. It's almost as though they've become a parody of what wearing a choker once meant."
Because I bought a leather BDSM collar from Etsy in the very same month that Polyester issue came out, I can't make any pretense to be a scholar of the zeitgeist. So in order to understand why chokers are now uncool, I did what I do best: asking far cooler people than me to explain things I don't understand.
"Generally chokers have had their moment. Having been taken out of the BDSM scene, with a very specific and rather explicit use, the choker was adopted by mainstream influencers and in turn, by really quite young teens," comments Emily Gordon-Smith of trend forecasting agency Stylus. "What's interesting here is that this age group may not actually understand the original origins of the look, demonstrating just how trends can start in a rather niche space, and move down to the mass audience. In the fashion scene this is a good example of a short-term trend—and one that is likely to come around again in the future."
As with any trend, if you wait around long enough, it'll eventually be fashionable again. Aida Manduley (who uses they/them pronouns) first wore a choker in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, before rediscovering their love for the neckwear in the early 2000s. "Starting in about 2003 or so, I started wearing a black 'tattoo-like' choker and just...never stopped? I liked it then, and like it now," Manduley comments. "I feel strange without my choker since I take it off rarely. I've only taken it off a handful of times since 2003!"
Manduley tells me that, before chokers became fashionable again, they'd often get asked about wearing one by the middle-school class they taught. "It was a funny conversation piece and way to build rapport, and when eventually chokers got popular again, it was an adorable piece of connection with my students since some of them were wearing them as well," they remember. "The resurgence was a bit odd at first, since people assumed I was wearing it for a trend's sake, but in the end, does that perception even really matter? What matters is I have a piece of jewelry I like, sometimes other people want to wear it, and sometimes they don't."
Like Katy Perry, chokers can recover from their prolonged period of over-exposure and become cool again, but only if they urgently reassess their look. "I don't think the shape itself is completely going to disappear, but it will need a serious update," says fashion designer and trend forecaster Geraldine Wharry. "It needs to go more artful—maybe being cut off, or the shape needs to be messed and experimented with."
For now, we continue to wear chokers for much the same reason that people keep giving celebrity children book deals—because we've gotten used to it, and don't know what else to do. Me, I'll probably experiment with wearing a fine, gold choker necklace in lieu of a hefty black strap. But then, what do I know? The choker isn't going to go away anytime soon, even if it's a look deader than Rob Kardashian's sock company.
The choker is dead. Long live the choker.