walk of shame

[ wawkuhv sheym ]
/ ˈwɔk əv ˈʃeɪm /

noun Slang.

the return trip home the morning after an unplanned sexual encounter, usually a one-night stand, wearing clothing from the previous evening.

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Origin of walk of shame

First recorded in 1990–95
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does walk of shame mean?

The walk of shame is when someone goes back home the morning after partying and hooking up with someone, typically wearing the same clothes from the night before because they hadn’t planned on the sexual encounter.

This use of walk of shame is often seen as sexist, because it frequently slut-shames women.

Walk of shame is sometimes used in more general, non-sexual senses for when someone has to face the public after an embarrassing moment.

What are some other words related to walk of shame?

one-night stand
hook-up
victory lap
Netflix and chill

Where does walk of shame come from?

The phrase walk of shame is first recorded in the 1990s. The term appears to originate on college campuses—where it’s apparently not too uncommon to see a person looking a bit rough in last night’s clothes walking across the quad back to their dorm after partying and having casual sex with someone.

One early instance of walk of shame comes in a 1991 edition of The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University’s student publication. A 1998 article from the paper, though, quotes a student describing a walk of shame scenario: “The best is when you catch someone on a quasi-walk-of-shame. When it’s still dark out, but you can just tell that they are all flushed and touseled [sic] from, you know, hooking up.” 

In 2011, British retailer Harvey Nichols ran an ad that featured women wearing their clothing doing walks of shame. It was meant to “turn the Walk of Shame into the Stride of Pride.” Some denounced the ad and attempted to get the British government to take it down.

In 2013, The Chive humor website compiled images people had taken of women spotted doing the walk of shame—a term that indeed gets associated with women.

Because of such content, people began calling out the double standard of walk of shame, as the phrase and concept humiliates women for going out and having a good time. Popular publications like The HuffPost ran opinion pieces about how the phrase is often sexist.

In 2015, Funny or Die created a video, called “Walk of No Shame,” with model and feminist Amber Rose. The comedy sketch was meant to transform the idea of the walk of shame into something empowering instead of embarrassing.

Also in 2015, Meghan Trainor released “Walkashame,” a song about walks of shame. On it, she sings: “We all make mistakes in the drunk world / Everyone here’s done the walk of shame.”

The 2000s saw other applications of walk of shame, including targeting men. This walk of shame is when a guy walks back to their friends at a bar after failing to pick up a woman.

Sports has a walk of shame, too, evidenced in the 2000s. In the likes of association football and rugby, a walk of shame is when a player has to walk back to the sideline or off the field after an egregious penalty.

How is walk of shame used in real life?

Not all instances of walk of shame are about one-night stands, hangovers, and looking like a hot mess. Any embarrassing public encounter can involve a walk of shame. Say an audience just saw you spill coffee all over your shirt right before you have to walk up to give a presentation. That can be a walk of shame.

Due to the sexism of walk of shame, some feminists have offered alternative, sex-positive terms for women, including stride of pride, trek of triumph, and victory lap.

More examples of walk of shame:

“And so there’s this hypocritical compromise: Women expect and are expected to be sexual, but they are also expected to put on a charade of shame, either by cringing as they do the walk of shame or by actively hiding that they’re leaving a man’s house in the morning. Even though sex is fun and, if done safely, harmless behavior.”

—Amanda Marcotte, Daily Beast, May 2014