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The Choker: Versatile and Varied

4 min read

LONDON — The choker, a neck-hugging jewelry style, seems to be riding a new wave of popularity.

Its appearance on women’s, men’s and couture runways and in fashion-world look books was featured in the 2021 annual roundup by Tagwalk, a search engine that tracks fashion trends. It noted that the use of chokers had increased 25.6 percent compared with the previous year.

And the style figured prominently in the spring 2022 fine jewelry and costume jewelry collections from Chanel, Dior, Coach and others.

Chanel, for example, offered a diamond-studded 18-karat white gold bouton de camélia choker — featuring the house’s signature camellia motif — for $38,400. The necklace has a sliding clasp that adjusts to fit different neck girths.

Several less expensive styles are included in Chanel’s spring 2022 costume jewelry range, including a double-strand gold-finish chain with interlocking white resin C’s ($775) and what the label called its Pearls Cascade choker, made with glass beads, rhinestones and resin ($1,475).

Dior also offered several choker styles on its website, including what it called a “bold and assertive” D-Punkish choker in gold-finish metal with more than 100 white resin pearls and pointy conical studs for $3,900.

One fan of the choker style is Tyler Chanel, a Los Angeles-based 27-year-old who writes the lifestyle and fashion blog Thrifts & Tangles to encourage sustainability. (A recent blog post was headlined “How to Politely Decline Gifts for the Holidays.”)

“Choker-style necklaces are my favorite,” she said by email. “They are so versatile.

“Necklaces of certain lengths only work with certain necklines, but chokers work with everything. They look great with V-neck tops and button-up tops (which make up the majority of my wardrobe).”

And, she said, she has noticed “a lot more people wearing bold gold chokers recently.”

Still, “chokers are not something new,” said Beatriz Chadour-Sampson, a jewelry historian based in England’s Hampshire county.

For example, she said by telephone, “the pearl necklace worn tight around the neck is something that recurs throughout the centuries from Roman times and even up to the era of the Hollywood stars from the 1940s and ’50s.”

One of the earliest documented cases of such short necklaces, she said, are the portraits that were painted on boards and then incorporated into the mummy wrappings of upper-class women throughout the Fayum Basin in Egypt, circa A.D. 150. These portraits show finely dressed women wearing layered chokers of pearls and precious or semiprecious stones.

Chokers also appeared in paintings of royalty and the wealthy merchant classes of the Renaissance. When fashion called for an expansive décolleté, or a lower neckline on a gown, a choker was often “worn close to the neck and in combination with a longer chain,” Ms. Chadour-Sampson said.

For example, a portrait in the National Gallery in London that Hans Holbein the Younger painted of Jane Seymour, who became the third wife of King Henry VIII in 1536, showed her wearing a choker of pearls and gemstones with a jeweled pendant, as well as a long matching necklace.

Style may not have been the only reason for royalty to layer on chokers. In the early 1900s, Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII, was often seen in ornate multistrand chokers. “She is thought to have had a scar on the neck due to a thyroid problem,” Ms. Chadour-Sampson said, “and wore these very high and full-neck ornaments to cover it.”

Chokers stand out among the offerings made by Sophia Forero, 55, who has been selling her own-label jewelry in the Chicago suburb of Burr Ridge, Ill. It was a career switch after getting a master’s degree in international relations at the University of Chicago in 1990 and then going to Hungary with the Peace Corps.

“I thought I was going to try to work for the State Department, but instead — JEWELS,” she wrote in an email. She would spend weekends in Hungary, Russia and what then was Czechoslovakia, she said, gathering stones and beads, some of which she still has in her studio.

Her collection includes chokers that she calls Aphrodite’s Sea, made of hand-hammered silver, pearls, aquamarine and apatite ($2,420); Axios, a double-strand of fine gold chain with ruby accents ($1,440); and One Giant Leap for Mankind, with peach moonstones, hand-hammered copper discs, a ruby and sapphire mosaic, and a hook in rose gold ($2,420).

“Jewels are my mojo, and so is the history behind them,” Ms. Forero wrote. The choker style can be found in many cultures and for both for men and women, she added, “from the Maasai and the language of their beaded necklaces, to the Celtic torc, to the neck rings of traditional Thai (Kayan) women.”

Possibly the most famous choker of the modern era was the one created for Diana, Princess of Wales, that combined a sapphire and diamond brooch given to her by Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and a short seven-strand pearl necklace.

Diana famously wore it in 1985 when she danced with John Travolta at the White House and, in 1994, to set off the décolleté of what would become known as her “revenge dress,” an off-the-shoulder black silk style that she wore to a fund-raising dinner in London on the same day that Prince Charles went public about his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. A statement piece, indeed.