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Almost Shocking

A Little Skin With Your Latte?

Lauren Alison is a barista at Chicka Latte in Seattle

Sara Lerner/NPR

Bikinis are one thing, pasties are another, at least when it comes to Seattle coffee shops. With espresso huts as prevalent as mile markers, employing scantily clad baristas appears to be one of the easier ways to boost profits. That's what a shop owner told us on the program this morning.

But when servers tossed their tops and started wearing pasties at a shop called Espresso Gone Wild, some residents decided the caffeine provocateurs had taken it too far. Mason County Commissioner Tim Sheldon stepped in and demanded that the bare-istas cover more of their breasts or be considered "unclothed" (and therefore in trouble). The shop pulled the pasties, but the bikini barista wars persist.

Though the phenomenon may be new to Seattle, it's far from novel to other parts of the world. In Santiago, Chile — at least when I was there three years ago — there was a "cafe con piernas" (coffee shop with legs) on almost every block. I often observed java-craving new-to-Chile gringas wandering through the darkened doors, only to flee thirty seconds later when they realized they were the lone female customer amid baristas in shiny pleather.

When Hooters finally arrived in Santiago in 2004, the heavily Catholic city embraced it with all its might. El Mercurio (oh how I wish I could find that article) reported that Hooters was to be a sort of cafe con piernas "cueco" — translating roughly to an elitist bikini cafe. The hottest, classiest girls from the finest cafe con piernas lined up outside to try out for the honor of working there. The simple fact that it was American helped cancel out the restaurant's low-brow reputation. (Reference point: TJI Fridays was considered fine dining there too.)

There are three Hooters in Washington State. None have inspired major protests — then again, the waitresses there generally keep their shirts on.



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Here is the troublesome part:

"'They make so much money at Java Girls, there's NOWHERE ELSE THEY CAN GO and work,' [Java Girls owner, Steve McDaniel] says." [Emphasis added]

Where is the line between opportunity and exploitation?

Sent by Marion W Merrick | 6:37 PM | 9-17-2008

It's disgusting.

But if you're going to be disgusting, why not do it fairly? Where's the male baristas walking around half dressed? Why only women? Why not equal exploitation for all?

Sent by Mo | 8:04 PM | 9-17-2008

The line between opportunity and exploitation will be crossed when Baristas complain in numbers that reach a critical mass of the total employees.

I just don't see the problem here. I thought we were busy worrying about our economy.

Sent by Dustin Ooley | 9:03 PM | 9-17-2008

Sounds like that man is no less than a pimp that sells sex and profits off of skanky, uneducated, morally challenged young's very sad.

Sent by Yvonne2beme | 12:38 AM | 9-18-2008

Wouldn't it be hazardous to the lightly dressed baristas to be working a machine that sprays pressurized steam? Perhaps OSHA should get involved.

Sent by Don Wolfe | 1:29 AM | 9-18-2008

I'm impressed that nobody interviewed for this story passes a moral judgement on the women working at these coffee shops. However, I'm dissappointed that some commenters immediately passed sexists assumptions about the morality, sexuality and education levels of these women. I happen to know a woman who works in one of these shops -- she has a college degree and made a conscious financial decision to work there. Just because a women uses her looks to make more money doesn't make her "skanky," "uneducated," or "morally challenged."

Sent by Alexander Jhin | 1:54 PM | 9-18-2008

The offended need not patronize establishments of which they so vehememtly disapprove; they can take their business to Starbucks or another coffee shop where the employees are traditionally attired or instead save money and percolate java on their own time at their own homes. Girls wear less clothing in many public schools and certainly at the beach or volley ball court. Compulsive do-gooders have to regulate everybody else's business and good times. As long as (1)the participants are of the legal age of majority, (2) no one is being coerced to work there or buy their coffee there, and (3) the product sold(coffee) is legal, what is the problem? If there is a need to fret, then worry about federal governmental bailouts of multi-billion dollar global insurance conglomerates or what will happen next in terms of al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. citizens, embassies and other property, or commuter train safety in the wake of the Chatsworth Metrolink catastrophe.

Sent by Maurice Kane | 2:37 PM | 9-18-2008

This reinforces to young girls that their best resource is using their bodies to tease men and earn money. Thereby, once again placing them in harms way physically and certainly emotionally. It deters them from focusing on their true value as intelligent young women with countless worthwhile goals to set and vaulable accomplishments to offer not only their community, but the world.

Sent by CG | 2:57 PM | 9-18-2008

It's disgusting.

But if you're going to be disgusting, why not do it fairly? Where's the male baristas walking around half dressed? Why only women? Why not equal exploitation for all?

Write up a business plan and get some capital if you think there is a market for it.

Sent by Mark Mascolino | 2:46 PM | 9-19-2008

As a mom of a son I am concerned about the message this sends to him. I have taught him to respect woman as whole human beings not to be treated as objects. In the name of titillation, exploitation dehumanizes the other person. It promotes shallow, dysfunctional human relationships. I also have a daughter and have taught her to respect her self as a whole human being and to avoid any and all situations that would cause her to be in an exploitive position Not only would it compromise her dignity, it would also be detrimental to her emotionally and psychologically.

Sexual exploitation of women in its various degrees also puts men at risk for developing sexually deviant tendencies, committing sexual offenses, experiencing difficulties in one's intimate relationships, and accepting the rape myth. Barack Obama has a plan to help reduce the number of abortions in this country; he suggests one way to do this is by "emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children." I agree with him, I think if we work toward this goal as responsible citizen in this country we can not only reduce the number abortions but also prevent sex crimes and spousal abuse. I 'd like to ask the owner of this coffee shop if he thinks he is really acting in the best interest of his employees, his customers and our society at large?

Sent by Ali Harrod | 10:26 AM | 9-20-2008

9 out 10 times you see pretty young girls as baristas, so it doesn't surprise me that stands have taken it a step further with skimpy uniforms. BUT THIS IS WAY TOO FAR!!! Hopefully these skanky baristas can help the self-respecting, clothed baristas by drawing the creepy, sexually harassive guys away and to these slut stands where they belong! It's amazing how unconfident, selfconsious girls are comforted and define their self-worth by this type of sexual attention from men. ...It's easier to earn a buck than respect.

Sent by Kristy | 7:50 PM | 9-22-2008

I blame both McDaniel's sexist attitude and the lack of foresight of his female workers. It's sad that men still look to use the female body to make a quick buck, and it's infinitely sadder that women let them. I don't doubt there are college graduates making conscious, financial choices, but they have to realize that short-term financial gain (they are not going to be young and beautiful forever) does not at all compare to the fact that they are teaching society that the best asset a woman has is her body. Not only are they passing that message on, but chances are they themselves will come to believe that, even if they don't now.

Sent by Chaucer | 11:34 AM | 9-23-2008