Ancient Egyptians encircled their necks with gleaming bands of gold and lapis lazuli; Degas’ ballerinas tied black velvet ribbons above their collarbones to set off frothy white tutus; and 90s grunge kids defied convention with tattoo-like spirals of plastic. Few accessory trends have transcended cultures quite like the choker.
Those who look back on their 90s wardrobe with some disdain can take heart in the choker trend’s storied past: there is so much more nowadays to take on the item than heavy-handed gothic styling. Whether you look to Oscar de la Renta’s finely wrought knot chokers or the Elizabethan neck ruffs at Valentino, you’ll soon realise why you need a choker necklace – or two.
Perhaps because it’s so recent, the most referenced point in the choker’s history is the 90s, somewhat unfortunately due to the decade’s PR. With a slew of remakes in the works – Train Spotting, Twin Peaks and Point Break, to name a few – the period has even infiltrated entertainment, while throwbacks are everywhere in beauty and fashion.
2016 marked the return of collegiate bomber jackets, silky slip dresses worn over white tees and chunky boots, yet of all the dominant 90s trends, the choker was the most pervasive. A natural progression from the 1970s-inspired skinny scarf that re-emerged in previous seasons, it garnished the necks of models on the catwalk, and increasingly, stars on the front row, too.
Off the catwalk, Lily-Rose Depp is a young champion of the choker necklaces trend, following in the footsteps of her mother, avant-garde 90s actress Vanessa Paradis. Nialaya Jewelry has placed a spiritual twist on the slim black line by threading an ‘evil eye’ charm on a strip of braided leather.
The choker trend goes far beyond that now ubiquitous length of black satin ribbon. Alexander Wang toyed with a reworked 90s aesthetic for AW16/17, sending out neo-punk buckled chokers with fuzzy black singlets and lace ‘n’ leather mini-dresses. Balmain nodded to ancient Greek warriors with lustrous bronze neck plates for SS16, and both Louis Vuitton and Maison Margiela shared a more futuristic vision, with glowing orbs dotted along fine cord and transparent plastic chokers for their SS16 collections, respectively.
From richly bejewelled iterations in all the colours of the rainbow (look to the offerings in the range of jewellery from Dolce & Gabbana) to neck pieces festooned with pearls, diamonds and vibrant beads (Aurélie Bidermann), the modern choker is a chameleon, moving from impossibly pretty to stand-offishly punk and everything in between.
It seems high fashion has provided all the reasons why you need a choker necklace. Worn slightly lower, it can have the effect of an embellished collar; teamed with fine chains and pendants of varying lengths it is less of a defined look; on its own, it grounds a slip dress or floaty off-the-shoulder top.
An unlikely history
Anne Boleyn’s fabled 'B' choker necklace is as famous as her tragic beheading, but hers isn’t the only story that shows the accessory in a less than positive light. Fast forward two centuries from Henry VIII’s reign to the French Revolution. During this time, women had taken to wearing blood-red ribbons around their necks in tribute to loved ones lost at the guillotine: a tragic but morbidly Parisian-chic example of the choker trend.
By the 1860s, a black ribbon tied around the neck identified the wearer as a sex worker, as depicted in Manet’s 1863 masterpiece Olympia, while in elite circles, the choker’s status had unexpectedly soared. Queen Alexandra of Denmark, wife to England’s King Edward VII, cemented the accessory as highly desirable among the aristocracy. She favoured ornate collars of pearls and diamonds, similar in ethos to the crystal-embellished pieces at Erickson Beamon.
Worlds apart from the tattoo-style plastic choker now strapped to high-schoolers’ necks, the 19th-century design was custom fit to the wearer and secured with porcelain cameos or precious gems intertwined with lace and velvet. Nowadays, Lanvin has the elaborate choker necklaces trend tied up, with decadent crystal pendants hanging from velvet ribbons, while the sculptural webs of gold and silver by Eddie Borgo provide an additional update.
Who knows what Queen Alexandra would have thought of the 20th-century take on her signature look – presumably she wouldn’t have been enraptured by Alicia Silverstone’s choker style in that other 1990s cinematic standout, Clueless. Yet 2016’s reprisal of the trend, with its spectrum of stylish offerings, would surely have impressed.