Seven bikini baristas and one coffee stand operater filed a lawsuit today challenging two new Everett city ordinances that criminalize the Pacific Northwest custom of wearing a bikini while working at a commercial coffee business. Baristas who violate the ordinances face draconian madness: up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. For wearing a bikini.
The plaintiffs claim that the Everett City Council, by passing the ordinance, violated their First Amendment rights and discriminated against them for being women, as men do not typically work as bikini baristas.
As you can imagine, this lawsuit doesn't run the risk of being boring. But the legal complaint was even better than we expected.
The most convincing section deals with the difficulty of enforcing seemingly arbitrary standards for dress. For instance, the city's new rules prohibit women from showing “more than one-half of the part of the female breast located below the top of the areola” and the “bottom one-half of the anal cleft.” Here's how the lawsuit respond to the first rule:
To properly enforce the Citywide Ordinance, police must first determine the location of the “top of the areola,” which is only revealed when a woman exposes her breast. Next, the suspect woman must undergo a humiliating and intrusive examination so the officer can calculate whether her clothing choice exposes more than the law allows.
As for the rules over "anal cleft" coverage?
It is unlikely that most citizens would be able to determine the location of their anal cleft, as it is not a term used in everyday speech and has varying definitions on the internet.
The arguments for free speech are also a doozy. They are both convincing and absurd in the lengths they go to avoid saying bikini baristas are meant to serve horny people.
By wearing a bikini while serving coffee, the Baristas communicate the messages of approachability and friendliness, and those messages give customers an escape—the feeling that they are at the beach or on vacation.
Here is plaintiff Leah Humphrey's account of working as a bikini barista:
I don’t see being in a bikini as being sexual. For me it is more about accepting myself, and being accepted by the people around me. I have changed as a person by being able to express myself as a bikini barista. Being able to express myself in this way has changed me as a person in a deeper way than what is obvious.
The lawsuit also argues that displaying tattoos that would be covered up by more conservative clothing is a form of speech. Here's the case of plaintiff Brittany Giazzi:
She cannot reveal this part of herself if she wears more than a bikini. Customers often ask her about them, which opens conversations. Ms. Giazzi will testify that the message she sends, by wearing a bikini with tattoos and piercings displayed, is confidence.
And there's even a section that compares a bikini barista's experience with the corporate sterility of her former employer, Starbucks:
She will testify that the bikini-barista message is more genuine, friendly, and empowered than the Starbucks message. At Starbucks, the message is more corporate and professional. At Starbucks, the attire is a little intimidating and does not allow for dialogue that arises because of the bikini. Ms. Bjerke will testify that at “the bikini stand we have conversations that never would happen at Starbucks. The bikini is an invitation to discuss.
Everett City Council members who sponsored the ordinances say bikini coffee stands lead to increased crime and STDs, decreased property values, and corruption of minors. Lawmakers also claim, with evidence, that some of the coffee stands act as a front for lewd conduct and prostitution. Everett's city attorney has said that bikini barista stands are "ripe for exploitation," which begs the question of why this ordinance penalizes would-be victims of said exploitation.
A spokesperson for the Everett city government did not immediately respond to The Stranger's request for comment.
CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect that a coffee stand operator is among the eight plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Everett's ordinances prohibiting bikini baristas.