Short Take: Studio 54, Where Are You?

There you were, wearing your tightest Jordache jeans and a flammable Huckapoo shirt, and still you were on line praying the doorman would open the velvet ropes like he did as Halston walked past the bridge and tunnel crowd without breaking step. It was the age of disco and Studio 54 was queen, filled with the beautiful and famous, and not you.

And that was why you tried so very hard to get in. That was why you wanted to get in. Because it was a club that wouldn’t have you.

Lest you mistakenly believe this was just a fetish of people with more cocaine than taste in music, it wasn’t much different at CBGB or Max’s Kansas City, even if Liza with a “z” never showed there. There is always an “in” crowd, even if the crowd may be completely different from place to place or moment to moment, and exclusivity is what made these places special. They excluded people, which is exactly why you want to get in. Groucho understood this facet of human nature long ago,

In what is likely a throw-away post, Eugene Volokh notes that the District of Columbia has enacted an ordinance that prohibits such exclusivity.

I just noticed that D.C. public accommodation law bans discrimination by places of public accommodations based on “personal appearance.” So when you’re next in line for a D.C. club and you see them letting in the better-looking people—or even the more fashionably dressed people—first, tell them you’ll be suing. On the other hand, since “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people,” maybe D.C. nightclubs don’t care about how you look, only how powerful you or your connections are.

Whether suing for being refused entry is as big a threat as some might believe, and whether beauty is only skin (clothing?) deep, the gravamen of this anti-discrimination law is that the ugly people should be treated no differently than the beautiful people. How can you tell the difference?

Personal appearance” means the outward appearance of any person, irrespective of sex, with regard to bodily condition or characteristics, manner or style of dress, and manner or style of personal grooming, including, but not limited to, hair style and beards. It shall not relate, however, to the requirement of cleanliness, uniforms, or prescribed standards, when uniformly applied for admittance to a public accommodation, or when uniformly applied to a class of employees for a reasonable business purpose; or when such bodily conditions or characteristics, style or manner of dress or personal grooming presents a danger to the health, welfare or safety of any individual.

Sounds fair enough. After all, why should “style of personal grooming” have anything to do with getting in? While it’s unclear whether the old saw, “no shirt, no shoes, no service” falls into the uniform uniformly applied or the outward appearance of any purpose, irrespective of sex, you can’t be denied entry for not looking cool in your black turtleneck. Or not being Halston no matter what you’re wearing.

It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice to do any of the following acts, wholly or partially for a discriminatory reason based on the actual or perceived: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business of any individual.

It goes quite a bit further than just appearance. No student discounts. No ladies night. No singles mixer. No special treatment for the rich and famous, or the poor and famous, or even the infamous. Isn’t that far more egalitarian? Isn’t egalitarian the goal? Aren’t we better off when we stop adoring some at the expense of others and instead homogenize our world so that there is no longer exclusivity?

Then again, will people want to join any club that will have them as a member? If there is nothing exclusive about getting in, nothing special about the night, nothing to show the world that you’ve become a member of the “in” crowd, will you still want to go?

16 thoughts on “Short Take: Studio 54, Where Are You?

          1. Anonymous Coward

            My immediate thought was Bryan Ferry’s version of “The In Crowd” as more in sync with the Studio 54 vibe,

  1. Jake

    Wake me up when they go after locations that are exclusive by virtue of requiring special skills, equipment, and hard work to get to.

      1. Jake

        I’m not talking about the kind of exclusive you can buy your way into if you don’t have the other three things.

  2. Skink

    “It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice to do any of the following acts, wholly or partially for a discriminatory reason based on the actual or perceived. . . : source of income”

    Just like Studio, blow sellers get in.

  3. Kevin P. Neal

    Wait, “genetic information”? I don’t even know what problem they’re trying to solve here.

    “Ahem. Sir, you’re not allowed here because you have two copies of the C677T variant of MTHFR. We don’t allow your kind here.”

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