Bikini Barista Lawsuit Defends Freedom to Espresso Oneself

A group of coffee industry workers sues Everett, Wash. over city's new anti-bikini ordinances.


Szerdahelyi Adam / Dreamstime

Earlier this week, a group of eight women who work in the coffee industry sued the city of Everett, Wash. in federal court. The plaintiffs allege a pair of new Everett laws are unconstitutionally vague and infringe on the plaintiffs' freedom of expression; right to privacy, personal autonomy, and liberty; and substantive due-process rights.

The laws, adopted last month and implemented this month, are intended to crack down on the so-called "bikini barista" phenomenon that's popular in Western Washington State. The lawsuit defines the business model as centering on baristas who "wear bikinis while serving coffee to customers in their cars through a drive-through window." The Stranger, a free Seattle weekly, defines it similarly as "the Pacific Northwest custom of wearing a bikini while working at a commercial coffee business."

The first law "prohibits women from exposing 'more than one-half of the part of the female breast located below the top of the areola'" or anyone from showing the "bottom one-half of the anal cleft.'" Under the law, women in particular could be subject to intrusive and demeaning bodily inspections. Those who are found to be in violation of the law face stiff fines and up to one year in jail.

The second law specifically targets bikini barista stands. It requires drive-thru espresso baristas—all of Everett's bikini baristas are women—"to cover completely their upper and lower body, including the pectorals, stomach, back below the shoulder blades, and the 'top three inches of legs below the buttocks.'"

These laws are patently dumb, moralistic, and theocratic in nature. As the lawsuit also alleges, they're also unconstitutional.

In order to learn more, I drove up from my home in Seattle earlier this week and visited one of the city's bikini espresso joints (with my friend's 70-year-old mom, to boot). It would be my first trip to one of the establishments.

My first stop, though, was at a fully clad espresso stand on the city's south side. The barista there, a woman, said she had no opinion on the lawsuit, but told me nevertheless that she thought baristas should be free to wear whatever they want at work.

I then drove across the street to Hillbilly Hotties, one of the city's bikini espresso stands. The barista there, wearing a Santa Claus themed bikini—complete with matching Santa hat—told me she didn't want to comment on the suit. But she gave me the phone number of Jovanna Edge, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and owner of Hillbilly Hotties and other bikini espresso stands.

I spoke with Edge on Wednesday.

Edge, who describes herself as "very conservative," tells me she and her co-plaintiffs filed suit because the city "enacted this dress code that was obviously against our First and Fourteen Amendment rights, and we shouldn't have to abide by their morals and values. They shouldn't be able to infringe upon everybody else's beliefs."

She told me she was shocked by the city law.

"I can't believe this actually passed," Edge said. "I never thought it would."

Shocking, too, is some of the language in the law. For example, I'd never heard the term "anal cleft" until reading about the lawsuit.

"I still don't know what that is" Edge tells me. "Our attorneys didn't know what that is. I think it's the part right above your butt crack. But I really don't know."

In a somewhat surreal conversation—my columns tend to focus on food law and policy issues like farm subsidies and menu labeling, rather than butt cracks—I came to understand the term is largely synonymous with the colloquial "plumber's butt."

I searched but could find no moralistic plans in Everett to crack down on the butt cracks of plumbers in the city. The same goes for Everett's own workers. A city-owned pool's website currently boasts several photos of women in bathing suits. The Facebook page for the city's Parks & Recreation Department, too, features many such photos.

You can judge for yourself the morality of posting such photos online. I don't find anything wrong with them. But, as the lawsuit notes, the law "prohibits women in 'Quick Service Facilities including Barista Stands' from wearing exactly what women typically wear in public on a warm summer day."

Absolutely. And the city's posting of such photos on its own websites make Everett's position on the bikini baristas seem laughably hypocritical, in addition to all of the claims the lawsuit lobs against the city laws.

Everett has been targeting bikini baristas for several years. And it's true that some bikini baristas have been charged with criminal conduct over the years. But targeting an entire segment of society because a few members of that segment have been bad apples would likely result in laws that would close down every American business, church, and branch and office of our federal, state, and local governments.

Outside of any legitimate health and safety concerns, a city shouldn't care what its baristas wear. And, as Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted earlier this week, Everett "isn't claiming that the regulations serve any food safety or public health purposes." Even if busybody elected officials do care about the attire of clothed baristas—or clothed plumbers or beachgoers, for that matter—they should keep their concerns to themselves and not impose their subjective and arbitrary morality on the rest of us.

NEXT: Should You Tell the Cops You Have a Gun?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “And it’s true that some bikini baristas have been charged with criminal conduct over the years”

    Most likely of the sort that also needs some good, hard legalizin’.

    1. Selling your body is just another way of espresso-ing yourself.

      BTW, I have to give props to Baylen for that awesome headline. I laffed.

      1. Hmm? The law is perfectly fine with sales; it’s just short-term rentals it objects to.

        1. I’m making over $12k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,…Go this web and start your work… Good luck.. http://www.startonlinejob.com

  2. Round here some guy opened a topless coffee shop. Moral busybodies complained of course. Wasn’t open for more than a couple months before someone set the place on fire. Dude wasn’t insured. Never heard from him again.

    1. I would hold my hat to my heart, but that seems like an inappropriate way to honor him, somehow.

      1. A little presumptuous, no, that people would wanna see your tits?

        1. No need to be so intimidated. Unless you’re worried that your Queen Bee status is being challenged?

  3. “The second law specifically targets bikini barista stands. It requires drive-thru espresso baristas?all of Everett’s bikini baristas are women?”to cover completely their upper and lower body, including the pectorals, stomach, back below the shoulder blades, and the ‘top three inches of legs below the buttocks.'”

    JASL sash encouraged but not mandatory.

  4. Why don’t they just require burkhas? Or does that make their agenda just a little too obvious?

  5. Seriously, the argument in court will have to start with the premise that there is no right to prostitution. Thus, the case would be considered in light of what the courts believe to be the right of local governments to ban prostitution.

    So the argument will not be “sexual freedom, dude,” but the claim that the government has gone too far in trying to prevent prostitution, in that it’s restricted free expression in unacceptable ways.

    1. Now, don’t ask me why sexual freedom is broad enough to encompass giving it away for free, but not broad enough to encompass commercial transactions. These subtle questions of law should be addressed to the courts, who understand their own reasoning better than us plebes.

      1. You can also make a pretty good argument that it is never “free”.

    2. The argument in court should focus solely on the fact that the law (if reported accurately) is discriminatory by sex. This is prohibited by federal law, preempting the city ordinance.

  6. Everett and Seattle and everywhere west of the Cascades is FUCKED IN THE HEAD.

    1. That’s what makes Western Washington so much fun.

      Everett sucks, though.

  7. “I’d like two lumps with my coffee!”

  8. The second law specifically targets bikini barista stands. It requires drive-thru espresso baristas?all of Everett’s bikini baristas are women?”to cover completely their upper and lower body, including the pectorals, stomach, back below the shoulder blades, and the ‘top three inches of legs below the buttocks.

    Not sure how it works in Everett, but in most of the world, a woman’s pectorals are pretty well covered by her breasts and skin.

  9. This would be a better article if Mr. Linnekin had found one or more of the people responsible for writing and passing the law to ask why. What problem were they trying to address and fix? Was this law passed for the benefit of the non-bikini barrister coffee shops to reduce competition?

  10. Nowadays, there are many women who are forced to navigate these law restrictions, which was imposed by law and custom. I think those women who feels comfortable in bikinis should not follow these legal requirements. Women, who loves to do shopping for bikini doesn’t have to be a dreadful experience. In fact, it is a great thing to do online shopping, far from the harsh bright lights of a department store. Women looking for the stylish bikini need to consider all the various cuts and designs of the newest bikinis for all types of women which can be found in many online stores like, Amazon, Dollboxx, eBay, etc.
    I do not believe in an objective standard of right and wrong. When it comes to the application of international human rights it is impossible to definitively state a set of fixed principles. So, for me all women have the choice to wear bikinis at the beach.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.