The Night I Broke My Belt at Studio 54
A wardrobe malfunction at New York’s hottest dance club turned into a wild coming out party.
Every three months or so between 1978 and 1981, CBS flew me first class to Manhattan, put me up at the Plaza Hotel and paid all my expenses. In return, they picked my brain about their soap operas (officially renamed daytime stories in the iconic 1982 film, Tootsie).
This California girl is a story savant, but back in the Paleolithic age, I had a lot to learn about style. On that first trip to New York, everything I packed was polyester. Do you really need to know anything else?
Trust me, you can’t get into the Russian Tea Room wearing tight white jeans and a Hawaiian shirt unless you’re Gilda Radner. I stepped up my game for the next trip, buying a dry-clean-only dress at Contempo Casuals. It was better, but the paparazzi aggressively turned away from me as I left the hotel.
It all changed a few months later: the night my belt broke at Studio 54.
My Boyfriend and I Celebrated Our Successful Work Trips
On this trip, I didn’t fly solo. I brought my boyfriend, a dentist turned band manager. I had a meeting. He had a meeting. I pitched ideas for shows like Search for Tomorrow to Bill Bell and his five assistants. My boyfriend pitched his band Rhoads to concert booking agents. Bill Bell was impressed I had sold three original soaps to prime-time networks without ever having worked as a writer on a daytime show. The booking agents were impressed that the lead singer for Rhoads (named for guitarist Randy Rhoads, who left Quiet Riot to team up with Ozzy Osbourne) was famous Randy’s little brother, whose real job was a delivery boy for a local L.A. florist.
So, I started coming up with story ideas: What if no one knows she used artificial insemination to get pregnant? What if her priest is being kind to her because only he and her doctor know she has a brain tumor? What if she and the priest have sex and, then, the brain tumor vixen doesn’t know if her baby’s daddy is the sperm donor or Father O’ Flynn? I had multiple situations in which every character on every show could shock America. Meanwhile, my boyfriend told the promoters that the drummer in his band, Nick Menza, was being scouted by Megadeath.
Turns out soap operas love brain tumors, and Rhoads was signed as the opening act for the Foghat tour. Time to celebrate! And since it didn’t matter what it cost because we weren’t going to have to pay for it, why not go to Studio 54, the hottest club and disco in the whole damn world?
Studio 54 Was a Feast for the Senses
I had a dry-clean-only dress. It wasn’t a Halston. It was definitely not a Studio 54 dress. And unfortunately, it wasn’t the Rudi Gernreich minidress my dad brought home in the early ’70s—a neon-yellow jersey material with see-through plastic in places you don’t want your dress to be see-through. I would have killed to have had that dress in my suitcase. Instead, I put on my black front-and-back V-neck dress. Then I cinched the belt, making the dress very short.
The only weapons I had were genetic: nice legs and huge, real boobs that pointed straight forward, like they’re saluting. I went braless because, well, just because. Also, there’s that Italian Viking boyfriend. Gorgeous and 6-foot-6-inches. He didn’t like to wear underwear, either. We had a lot in common.
We also got in.
Really, I have no idea how or why. The only thing I know for sure is it wasn’t my style. Until my belt broke. Hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself.
What can I say about Studio 54 that hasn’t already been said? Only that it was more than any photo or film can show. The music massaged your ovaries. It was so loud I knew I would need a hearing aid when I got old, but I didn’t care. The lights were cosmic in that they felt like a natural phenomenon. I knew it wouldn’t be too long before I had a blinding migraine and would need a Quaalude. Well, I came to the right place for all of that.
Celebrities made eye contact with you at Studio 54. We were all in the moment together. Grace Jones danced by in a neon green onesie, and she was so beautiful I forgot to breathe. Anyone you saw up close—or could reach out and touch—you danced with, even if only for a few seconds.
My Belt Blunder Became a Big Hit
I was in the bathroom when my belt exploded. It didn’t just break; it totally shredded. My dress, once ruched into a mini, fell hard. It was now just below my knees, which meant that the V’s in the neck and back also fell. The front V stopped beyond my navel. The back V clearly introduced the crack of my ass.
I didn’t know what to do, so I threw my belt away and walked tall out of the bathroom into a pack of gay men who discovered me and dragged me to booths where the really important people were hanging out. “Look at this dress!”
Everyone was looking. I was spun, touched and interrogated. Who is the designer? “God,” was my answer. And they accepted it. I danced that dress off and back on the rest of the night, happy I had said no to Playboy years before and that the remarkable phenomenon that was Studio 54 was my coming out party.
This history is requested by my daughter’s friends, like Adriana Mencias, a talented stylist from Tucson, and my Beverly Hills forever friend Mario Gonzales, tailor to the stars. Mario can vouch for the fact that although I still have very little style, I continue to walk tall.
Always remember: Today’s fashion blunder is tomorrow’s haute couture.