Washington state is largely known for the Space Needle, breathtaking hiking trails, and torturous alternative rock bands, but it is also the birthplace of one coffeeshop-related innovation: bikini baristas. Essentially consisting of coffee stands staffed by girls dressed in lingerie or swimwear, the trend first originated in Seattle in the early 2000s and has attracted controversy ever since.
Authorities in the Pacific Northwest city of Everett are now trying to shut them down. On August 16, Everett City Council passed two ordinances effectively banning bare midriffs, exposed shoulders, shorts, and bikinis in quick serve restaurants. The new rules basically put bikini barista stands out of business overnight.
Baristas at the Hillbilly Hotties chain are fighting back by filing a suit in the US District Court in Seattle. Filed by seven employees and their female boss, the suit alleges that the new laws go against their constitutional rights. Among other claims, lawyers for the women argue that the city ordinances violate their First Amendment rights to express themselves, and their Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying the baristas the equal protection that men have in being able to dress as they please.
This isn't the first time that bikini barista stands have caught the attention of city authorities. In 2009, five women were charged with prostitution after a two-month-long police investigation. Detectives alleged the women were charging customers extra money to strip and lick whipped cream off each other. Three years ago, the owner of a separate bikini barista establishment was also charged with money laundering and prostitution after staff allegedly made money from stripping and other sex acts.
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The Hillbilly Hotties baristas filed their suit against city council on September 11. "The baristas wear bikinis while serving coffee to customers through a drive-through window," their complaint reads. "They express messages of freedom, openness, acceptance, empowerment, and individuality. By exposing tattoos, scars, and bikinis that they select, the baristas can open dialogue with customers about life and experiences. The baristas could not achieve these messages and discussion without the bikini."
The plaintiffs argue that the ordinances unfairly target bikini baristas over cheerleaders like the Seattle SeaGals, who wear similar outfits. "Just like Starbucks with green aprons, UPS with brown trucks and shorts, Hooter's with minimal orange, athletic shorts, the baristas' attire is a brand at work," the group of women said in a press statement supplied by their lawyers.
Liberty Ziska, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that wearing a bikini was a matter of personal choice. "I choose my own clothing at work, and for me, the message I send is freedom," she said. "Millions of women fought for our rights and right to vote, and it's my right to wear what I want. It's my right as a person. There is nothing unhealthy, obscene, or contrary public good in the barista's garments."
Spokesperson and organizer Schuyler Lifschultz told Broadly: "[Hillbilly Hotties] is a hundred percent female owned and operated. All three business owners of the multiple stands in Everett are female."
"These laws should never have been passed," he adds. "Local politicians are enacting ridiculous laws setting back women's rights by fifty years."
He is optimistic that the bikini baristas will be free to sexily froth milk for their customers' lattes in the near future. "We are confident the laws will be overturned," Lifschultz says. "But we are not in this for money... I don't want my daughter to grow up in a world dominated by such draconian laws."
Broadly reached out to Everett City Council for comment and will update the piece with their response.