There's a small kerfluffle around the web today about an ad from an "upmarket" chain called Harvey Nichols. The ad is simple enough. It shows various girls coming home in last night's party dresses on what's now known as the Walk of Shame. The point of the ad is that in a Harvey Nichols dress, you'll look both fashionable enough to be out at night but still elegant and professional enough to pass as in daytime attire--- thus avoiding the Walk of Shame look. It's a reasonably cute ad, but it has drawn fire both for what's now called "slut shaming" and for "class privilege". The second claim does perplex me, and I'm not sure how its proponents justify it, or just what privilege it is to shop at Harvey Nichols.
There is a difference between the dawn walk home for males and females. That much is true. I've walked home from young companions' apartments in the morning in last night's clothes, but I've never thought of it as a Walk of Shame. I'm more likely to think of it as a kind of victory march, and I'm likely to recite Housman to myself: Soldier from the wars returning, spoiler of the taken town.... I will add here that the victory isn't over the young girl I've left sleeping in her bed. The victory is over time and fate and entropy. Walking home with a jacket over my shoulder and a tie stuffed into a pocket, I do feel like I've won something, or proven something. But never at my young companion's expense. The goodbye kiss as I left her bedroom for city streets was heartfelt and had no small amount of thank-you to it. Walking home, what I feel is elation. If the world and all the passers-by can tell that I'm returning from a lovely girl's bed, all the better. I've defied time and age and social expectations, and I've been given a whole nested set of gifts: pleasure, certainly, and a sense of renewed life and potential.
I'm usually at coffeehouses early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and there's always a steady inflow of Walk of Shame girls at the ones near the university--- hungover, tired, often carrying last night's stiletto heels. I can understand why they're walking. It's a close neighbourhood, bars and clubs and undergraduate apartments all together. (I've never understood girls having to do the Walk of Shame in places like London or New York; you'd think last night's partner would have the grace to offer cab fare.) I'm often amused by the girls--- who avoids her friends' eyes, who sits with other returning girls to share stories or commiserate, who's too hungover to do more than try not to go face down on the table. Amused, but never contemptuous. That's a distinction worth making. I enjoy watching them and inferring stories, but I don't feel contempt. I do feel envy, of course, the standard male wish that one girl or another had been in my bed last night. And there's always the fact that last night's party dress may be delightfully revealing in morning light. I can't deny that, and I'd never think of denying it. I will always turn the Male Gaze onto youth and beauty. But there's never contempt or derision. Why would there be?
Well, I still don't understand the "class privilege" attack on the Harvey Nichols ad. The remnants of the class system in Britain are as mysterious as ever the older system was. Is it only that the dresses sold there are expensive? I'll leave that for readers' comments. I will just say that I like seeing Walk of Shame girls--- though I certainly have no interest in shaming them. And while I think of my own dawnlight returns as a small Roman triumph, there's no reason at all why a lovely girl shouldn't stride home with her own sense of victory.