Can You Judge a Hooker by Her Cover?
What do prostitutes actually look like?
Gardez l’eau! A fresh deluge of sleaze is threatening to engulf Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF. Called “The Carlton Affair”—once your scandal has an official name, you know you are in deep merde—this fromage-fest exploded after Mr. Strauss-Kahn was questioned by French investigators about alleged dalliances with a prostitution ring. The “rutting chimpanzee,” as he has been called, is alleged to have participated in embezzlement-funded orgies at various luxury hotels. (Could there be anything more comical than the notion of horny, trouserless, geriatric French businessmen cavorting around posh hotel suites? Ooh la la! It calls to mind those goofy French plays by Georges Feydeau, the Belle Époque farceur and libertine who gambled away all his cash, contracted syphilis and then went mad. Mon Dieu! Let’s not get side-tracked.)
Could DSK have been aware that the participating females were being paid? This is the question du jour for French investigators. His lawyer, Henri Leclerc, has claimed that any certainty on this matter was pas possible: "He could easily not have known, because, as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you're not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman." According to M. Leclerc, it is quite easy to sort the wheat from the chippy, but only as long as the lady in question is wearing clothes. Once the clothes come off, the hooker resembles any regular mademoiselle.
This legal posturing got me thinking: How can you tell if a gal is, as the Brits say, “on the game?” What does a prostitute actually look like? As I probed this fascinating subject, I encountered a miasma of paradoxes and contradictions.
Problem No. 1: Prostitutes, especially high-class hookers, have a long history of disguise. One thinks of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, the two tarts who rocked the British government in the early ’60s during what was known as “The Profumo Affair.” With their deceptively demure sheath dresses and elegant court shoes, Mandy and Christine penetrated high society—and were subsequently penetrated by high society—dressing with the chic restraint of Jackie Kennedy.
Problem No. 2: While some hookers have opted for a conservative style of dress, vast numbers of nonhookers are now confusing the landscape by screeching off in the opposite direction. The signifiers and flourishes of street-hooker style—cripplingly high stiletto shoes, cleavage-revealing halter tops, butt-cleavage revealing hot-shorts, and pube-skimming jeans—have been adopted by these otherwise regular gals. Streetwalker style has become a dominant fashion M.O. for an entire generation of nonprostitutes. (Real Housewives … bonjour!) One imagines the hookers of the world watching this cavalcade of co-opted slut-style and sighing with uncomprehending exasperation. Now that the entire world is dressing ho, what the hell are we supposed to wear? one can almost hear them asking.
Regarding nudity: Adding to the confusion is the fact that regular gals now resemble sex-workers, even with their clothes off. This was not always the case. Back in the last century there were certain signature flourishes which were exclusively associated with naked tarts and porno-stars. Pubic trimming, thong undies, tattoos, piercings, and ankle bracelets were—during the 1980s and before—a sure sign that a gal was up to no good and most likely not a Mormon. Around the turn of the century, these bodily adornments were enthusiastically and inexplicably adopted by all and sundry.
In conclusion: There is no conclusion. Whether naked or dressed, there is no definitive way to determine if a gal is a prostitute.
On a side note: For team DSK to suggest that any female orgy participants might not have been prosties—conjuring a world of horny, fun-loving, attractive young girls whose idea of a stimulating evening is to hang around business-person hotels servicing superannuated over-achievers—constitutes a nuclear expression of audacity and offers a fantastically revealing window into the egomaniacal psyches of those concerned. We all know power is an aphrodisiac, but … really?
Lest I sound too censorious, let it be known that I myself have dabbled in the world’s oldest profession. Yes, dear reader, on matters of prostitution I speak from a certain amount of experience. Here’s how it went down: In my last year of college, I attempted to turn a trick. What can I say: Funds were running low and drastic measures were required. Fortunately I had a mentor, a pal who had once been a successful “rent boy.” This semi-reformed man-hooker insisted that the key to successful whoring was to flaunt oneself. Flaunt! Flaunt! Flaunt! This entailed slashing one’s shirt to the waist in a gypsy-ish fashion, and biting the air tempestuously, as if catching flies.
Ultimately I failed, but not because I did not bite the air with sufficient vigor. It was my inability to “collect” that rendered me useless. I found it virtually impossible to get my john—I only tried it once—to pony up.
The ability to collect may, at the end of the day, be the only thing that distinguishes the whore from the non-whore. Forget about tramp-stamps, shredded Daisy Dukes and extreme piercings. The only surefire way to know whether the gals in those hotel rooms were hookers or not would be to closely examine their receivables.
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)