On Wednesday, noted man Matt Lauer went where few talk show hosts have gone before, pulling down his starched collar to reveal a delicate black choker. Lauer’s Today Show bit basically consisted of him outing himself as a choker never-nude.
“Chokers for men are a thing now too,” he insisted to his talk show compatriots. “ASOS has a wide selection of male chokers, some in velvet and others in cotton…they’re late to the game because, guys, I have been wearing a choker for years.” It may have just been one inch of ribbon, but Lauer’s above-the-shoulder strip show was celebrated as a milestone for the “male choker”. Tweets were tweeted, think pieces were thought, and bad opinions were broadcast to the World Wide Web. One GQ writer bravely reported from the frontlines of male stupidity, in an article titled “Stop Men’s Choker Necklaces Before They Start”.
Apparently, Lauer was uncomfortable with being labelled as Patient Zero in this apparent epidemic. Just a day after he debuted his polarizing accessory, he set the record straight, insisting that he put the necklace on “five seconds” before the segment, and removed it “five seconds after”. He went on to swear that, “I do not wear a choker”, with all the solemnity of a teenager pleading “no homo”. With this 24-hour turn around, Lauer proved that the only thing more delicate than his choice in accessories is his fragile masculinity.
The mainstream male choker trend is a relatively recent phenomenon, tied, as Lauer explained, to ASOS’s latest “men’s choker” offerings. The online retailer boasts ten choker styles exclusively for men, photographed on male models. They range from a wrap-around choker to a pink velvet necklace to a “burnished silver” stunner. There’s even a “reclaimed vintage belt choker necklace”, for the man who has a million belts, but none short enough to comfortably fasten around his neck. Of course, the only acceptable response to ASOS’s marketing ploy is mockery.
What could possibly be the point of trying to masc-up a unisex accessory? The answer became unfortunately apparent in the male choker “backlash”, as dude-bros and Twitter eggs came out of the woodwork with their unsolicited opinions. Namely, that “chokers don’t belong on men”. Clearly, ASOS was playing into this brand of gendered nonsense, specifically labeling their chokers to suggest that men can and should feel comfortable tying pieces of fabric around their necks.
Of course, “real men” have been rocking chokers for decades, even without the approval of an online British retailer. Native American warriors wore wide chokers, usually made from bone and glass beads, during battle, and also donned them during tribal ceremonies. Rock stars like Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, and Mick Jagger contributed to the necklace’s popularity in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Lenny Kravitz, John Lennon, David Bowie and Elvis Presley similarly embraced the choker. The style has also proudly clasped the necks of fictional heartthrobs. On My So-Called Life, Jared Leto brought illiteracy and chokers back, pairing the thin black ’90s iteration with a red flannel and a vacant, blue-eyed stare. And any straight dude with a seriously masculine aesthetic can rest assured in the knowledge that The O.C.’s resident bad boy wore a delicate leather string around his neck. Yes, Chino’s own Ryan Atwood rocked a choker.
In the past few years, artists like Harry Styles and Young Thug have been photographed in chokers. Young Thug, who has gone on the record saying, “There’s no such thing as gender”, is continuing the lineage of choker addicts who doubled as genderqueer icons. It’s no coincidence that this list is littered with men who embraced gender-bending sartorial statements, and were also sex symbols in their own right. The unapologetic swagger that inspires a man to dip into the unisex styling pool holds its own appeal. So does the insistence, from stars like David Bowie and Mick Jagger, that there’s no one way to be a man.
At the end of the day, gendering accessories or styles—and shaming people for stepping out of these arbitrary boxes—is a ridiculous pastime. That being said, chokers and women are legendary partners-in-crime.
Historically, the choker has fallen under the purview of lady badasses. Anne Boleyn, the ultimately beheaded English queen, wore a tight string of pearls around her neck complete with a dangling gold “B”. During the French Revolution, women wore red ribbons around their necks as an homage to their decapitated friends and family. In 19th century Europe, prostitutes wore chokers to identify themselves as working women. And in the 1990’s, chokers became a teen trend, as well as a mark of the dark arts. Goths, Wiccans, and the iconic coven from The Craft all sported the style. Two very important women—Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera—proceeded to get on their choker game. Now, in the midst of a full-fledged choker revival, you can spot the timeless fashion piece everywhere from runways to Rihanna.
There’s no reason why men can’t also partake in the BDSM imagery and general badassery of the choker. In fact, GQ articles and Matt Lauer antics aside, the male choker trend is already in full swing. The necklaces were ubiquitous on the menswear runways in July, highlighting chiseled jaws at Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hood by Air, and Fenty by Puma. But if men are going to embrace their ability to wear whatever the fuck they want, then let’s set some ground rules. After all, women haven’t been wearing chokers for centuries only to watch a bunch of dudes turn the flattering look into a turf war. Hypermasculine men—and Matt Lauer—will not be personally victimized with mandatory male choker laws. We’ll graciously share our chokers, as long as men don’t use them as an excuse to spread bad opinions on the Internet.
Remember: just because you don’t like a style, doesn’t mean you need to take it as a personal affront to your masculinity. Luckily for the anti-choker bros, and unfortunately for the rest of us, it’s going to take a whole lot more than a snug velvet necklace to take down the patriarchy.