Ever faced the Walk of Shame? Designing Disgust

Harvey Nichols, exclusive designer company, self-positioned as the ‘world’s leading international luxury fashion destination, a one-stop-shop for the most exclusive brands in fashion, beauty and food’ asks us directly via YouTube if we  have ‘ever faced the walk of shame’?

Walking with ‘shame’ already implies a very embodied attachment as it is you that has to walk with it, with – as the advert makes clear – your own body, dress, demeanour, consumption and, ultimately, class, as shameful: a certain ‘type’ of woman is invoked as designer, proud and in place while another ‘type’ is positioned as disgusting, to be cast aside, evaluated as the bad mistake of the night before, revealed in the morning light.

In the clip, ‘Morning Has Broken’ plays over the emergence of these supposedly unheavenly creatures, crawling dishevelled and disorderly, from darkness and into the light, ruining the respectable working morning in their now shoe-less footsteps.  Daylight highlights her large thighs, exposed breasts, inability to run (or to even move); we read the signs of her pulling down her dress – and pulling up her dress – as an embodied excess which is distinctly out of place, shameful. The dress can’t cover her: her tights are ripped as she emerges, alone, from a doorway; as she passes productive full-of-life joggers, commuters, in a dull rainy landscape: she is unfit to be there, over-exposed and over-exposing (is she also responsible for the over-cast weather?). We witness workmen rightfully evaluating her poor state; we see other women sit alongside her as good commuters on their way to work as she is on her way to devouring a Big Mac. Leopard print, gold, and red are, apparently, the colours to avoid if you wish to avoid the walk or become the talk.

Deeply embedded messages about gender inappropriateness, femininity and class are re-done in this designer advert where the respectable, glowing and not-hung-over body of a slightly older (but not too old) classy woman, able to swish past (rather than sprawl through) the working day, provides an important lesson on how to consume (and therefore be) ‘properly’. She brings forth a glowing sunshine and a different presence. Social propriety is conveyed by the early post-man pleasantly attracted by her designer smile, rather than disgusting sickness, as she enters her exclusive apartment. With her exclusive dress.

The advert ends with a re-direction to Harvey Nichols womenswear, guiding us through those cutting glances at the bus stop. And all the way to a chic riverside apartment. If you find yourself in this place then the message seems to be ‘please do indulgent quietly, independently, teasingly dignified’. If you cannot: then shame on you.

I, for one, do not emit rays of (just the right-kind-of-gold) sunshine in the morning; I do not find this a general property of my clothes, shoes, or hair either. According to Harvey Nichols I have simply been shopping in the wrong place and risking the wrong appearance.  Disgust is deliberately designed in these moments as itself a shameful invocation, better placed away from young women’s uptake of space and onto the structures and sanctions (and shops!) endlessly circulated. Shame on you, Harvey Nics, why not try to walk another way?

Yvette Taylor, London South Bank University

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