Okay, so there’s a lot to be said about collars. One huge thing about them has to do with the type of relationship that you are viewing the collar in. A collar on a slave is not the same as a collar on a boy is not the same thing as a collar on a pup, and there are a host of very casual or play-related reasons to wear a collar that don’t qualify as “being collared.” Ultimately, a collar is a symbol that signifies a meaning, and between two people, a collar may mean something slightly (or wildly) different. So, here are the basics as I’ve learned and understand them, information compiled from multiple sources. Keep in mind that none of this is gospel or a pronouncement of orthodoxy. You should always ask someone about their collar if you want to know what it means.
Historically, the gay male leather community has used the collar to signify a measure of possession or ownership—be it on a slave, boy or other submissive figure. Typically, collars for slaves came in two varieties—the “consideration” collar and the permanent collar. When a Master presented a slave with a permanent collar, that was a sign that the ownership was a lifetime commitment, that the slave’s status as property, having surrendered all agency and authority to his Master, was solemnized, recognized by the community and fixed. No other Master would seek the service of the slave ever again because it had been handed over permanently. The closest analogue in the vanilla world is a marriage or lifetime handfasting, but this connection and commitment is one not focused on romance or the creation of family, but rather grounded in service, stewardship and recognition of a permanent power-exchange.
Before a permanent collaring, a slave is presented with a “consideration” collar. Major differences include that the commitment is not permanent and is less binding. While the collar is supposed to let other Masters see and understand that this particular slave is being considered for permanent collaring by someone else (and discourage “poaching” or “courting” of someone else’s property), during the consideration phase of the process, sometimes slaves are known to return their collars or ask to be released. There’s no easy analogue in vanilla terms. It’s not like being engaged, because there’s no promise—but at the same time, it’s typically more serious than a casual “just dating.” Beyond these two, slaves might wear a collar for a scene or for other use by/service to a Master, but the significance of the symbol would be clear between the Master and his slave.
Again with the history, you also saw permanent and consideration collars on boys. The other development with the Sir-boy relationship that wasn’t necessarily present in Master-slave arrangements was the use of a “training collar.” The nature of the conditional submission present in the Sir-boy arrangement (and to a comparable extent, the Daddy-boy dynamic) tends to call for active reinforcement by the Sir, and so some boys are given training collars to remind them who they serve, why they serve, and to grant them a measure of security of their worth in their Sir’s esteem. The training collar is not so serious a commitment as even the consideration collar, and may even be something that is locked on under specific circumstances and then removed until those circumstances arise again. And, of course, the use of temporary collars during scenes or for other short-term service is not uncommon for boys. Now, even with history being what it is, within the current community, I’ve seen slaves wearing what was described to me as a “training collar,” but if it means something different for a slave than it does a boy, I’m not aware of it.
Now, with the relatively recent explosion of pup play and long-term Handler/Trainer-pup relationships, there are further developments in the use of collars as a symbol. It may be because there is a strong association in our culture with the canine wearing a collar to simply signify ownership in a pet context, but whatever the reason, a training collar is pretty much standard in Handler-pup relations. In fact, I know quite a few strongly identified pups who either have never been in a dynamic and worn someone’s collar, or who have ended those relationships, who feel a very keen despair about not being collared, and who take “stray” as a deadly insult. The need for security and belonging and approval that the collar represents is right up front with most pups, and the training collar is there, whether explicitly or not, to provide that. I have seen a few pups in long-term relationships who have referred to their collars as permanent, but have not spoken with any who has described his/her collar as a “consideration” type collar.
So, in answer to your unasked question, if someone offers you a collar and you don’t know what it means and they’re not forthcoming in telling you, ASK THEM. I cannot view blindly accepting a collar from someone without talking at great length about exactly what it means and what sort of expectations it carries with it and how much of its meaning is to be public and how much not as anything short of a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, the collar will be a reference point for both you and whoever offers it to you, and you both need to know what it means and why it connects you, otherwise it’s just meaningless neckwear.
Hope that helps, bub!
Great essay about collaring and collars.