The Indefinable Style of New York Bartenders
04.22.19

For those who have never worked as a bartender, the job tends to conjure an image somewhere between the bar-top dancing of Coyote Ugly and the friendly faces of Cheers. Far from the reality of a neighborhood bar, women bartenders in movies and TV are often sorted into two categories: sexed up goddess in leather pants or gruff, apron-clad matron.

But standing on one’s feet for 10 hours at a time — often covered in beer and booze — is not always conducive to leather pants, much less silk fabrics or heels. Not all bartenders wear head-to-toe black, but some do, and they put a steampunk, or glam rock, or sixties spin on it. Real bartenders each have their own look, and the way they dress stands at the crux of style and utility. Perhaps nowhere is that truer than in New York City, where personal style is its own form of social cachet—and where a bar can be found on seemingly every street corner of the five boroughs.

The idea of “dressing for success” at a job might bring to mind a power suit or that perfect pair of heels. For bartenders, however, it’s often more about that cherished pair of earrings, a washable fabric or a shirt pattern that both showcases personal style and hides stains.
And in a position that’s ripe for objectification, many women bartenders try to strike a balance between protecting themselves and wearing whatever the hell they want.

I spoke to three bartenders in New York City in vastly different establishments—from beer halls to tiki bars—to find out everything about their personal style. They spilled the goods on what they wear, how it’s changed, and how it shapes their confidence on the job.


Ari Kellman

Ari Kellman, 27, has been bartending for six years. She works at Proletariat, As Is, and The Well.

How do you describe your overall style? How would your customers describe it?

Utilitarian, New York, a little punk rock. I think my customers mostly think the same—my regulars make fun of me when they see me in anything other than black.

What do you think about when you’re getting dressed for work? For life?

Getting dressed for work is a constant balancing act. There are so many factors! I’m thinking about where I’m working, what my shift entails (do I have to pull mats that night? use bleach? how fast do I expect to be moving?), how I’m feeling (bloated? should I wear a bright shirt to distract from my low energy? etc) and how long I’m working — that always affects my footwear. Most people would likely be surprised by how much energy goes into what looks like a basic black on black ensemble, but it’s important to me that I look put-together, that my outfit be comfortable and not distracting, that I feel confident about how I look. Also, I always have to remind myself to find my hoops before I leave—I feel completely naked without them.

Getting dressed for life is a lot of the same, except I try to force myself to wear blue jeans on my days off, and I get to wear the super tight high-waisted jeans that I have tried and thoroughly failed to be able to comfortably work in.

Has how you were dressed ever affected your tips or customer interactions in any way?

Ooof, yes! This used to be really huge when I was first bartending—I was at a dive bar where I could totally dress up in tight skirts and dresses and I remember once getting an $18-dollar tip on a $2-dollar beer because I “looked good in that dress.”

But I found myself being objectified no matter what I wore—whether I was in an oversized hoodie or a little dress—and a customer once threw Chex Mix at my ass when I was working in high-waisted denim shorts and an oversize men’s shirt. So.

How has your style changed since when you first started bartending?

It’s funny to look back and remember that I used to wear long floral skirts to work—and also tight little ones! I was definitely going through a regrettable hippie phase when I lived upstate. Also, working in NYC is a lot like living here—I’m never less than half an hour away from home, so I always leave prepared for everything that might come my way. Am I going out after work? Will I be seeing a cute crush at a regular spot? Gotta dress for all of it. Plus, I’m commuting in NYC, so I always feel compelled to Look Good. My uniform that I’ve developed (thank you Judi Rosen NY, Breaking Hearts and Burning Rubber et al for the stylish and functional dream clothes) really helps me maintain a vibe that I’m comfortable with.

What do you think are some misconceptions people might have about how bartenders?

That we wear all black to be stylish — it’s because we’re FILTHY! And sweaty. And gross.

Do you have a style icon?

Besides Crystal from Man Repeller? *swoon* I really do look up to people who dress in ways that are so beyond out of my comfort zone—it’s super inspiring. I love taking tiny bits of inspo from loud, outrageous dressers and finding ways to incorporate them into a more basic outfit. That being said, my own style is more like Lou Reed meets early Patti Smith with, I’d like to hope, the occasional splash of Jane Birkin.


Yolanda Baez

Bartending for the past seven years, Yolanda Báez, 31, works in the trendy rooftop bar, Broken Shaker NYC, in the Freehand hotel.

How do you describe your overall style? How would your customers describe it?

I describe my style like street fashion, urban style, funky and bohemian. I like to mix and match vintage stuff with modern designers. I haven’t gotten any costumers that described my style, but most of the time they always give me good compliments about my look.

What do you think about when you’re getting dressed for work? For life?

How I dress depends on how I feel that day, the occasion and most important my mood. There are some days that I wear all black, others where I’m super bohemian, and some of them I’m just wearing brands that I work with like Ilegal Mezcal, Bacardi, Don Julio etc.

Has how you were dressed ever affected your tips or customer interactions in any way?

A lot of people like my style and I always get nice compliments. But I think I get good tips because I always give a good experience to my guests. I don’t think that bartending is about how you look—it’s about how good you are in what you do.

How has your style changed since when you first started bartending?

At the beginning, when I started bartending at the Broken Shaker Miami, I started to wear a lot of brand T-shirt and tropical vibes. Since I moved to New York, my style has changed, because you can’t go to the beach and go straight to work here! Here you have to look FUN and the season helps a lot to have different looks.

What do you think are some misconceptions people might have about how bartenders dress?

There are different styles of bartending, like in fashion it all depends on which kind of bar you work in. Each bar has their own style; some of them even have uniforms. But I think most of the bartenders that I know all dress really cool; to be a bartender you have to be a creative, and creative people have cool style.

Do you have a style icon?

I always look up to Jennifer Lopez because she has been on trend and bringing new trends for decades, and she always looks flawless, fierce and healthy.


Amina Camille

Bartending for the past seven years, Amina Camille can now be seen serving up tropical fare at the Dromedary Urban Tiki Bar in Bushwick. She’s 29 years old.

How do you describe your overall style? How would your customers describe it?

I suppose I would describe my style as bold, eclectic, body-conscious and boundary pushing. I like to keep people guessing. I decided when I was a kid that I was gonna be a hellion and buck the system in as many ways as possible, mostly by how I presented myself to the world. Women from my heritage don’t get a lot of say when it comes to representation, so I knew it was up to me to represent myself.

My guests say that my style is “fun and eclectic,” “bold and quirky like a reformed roller derby bitch but make it fashion,” “body-positive, fashion forward performance art.” Their words, not mine, haha.

What do you think about when you’re getting dressed for work? For life?

I’m never the same woman two days in a row, so I dress according to my mood/vibe each day, whether for work or for play. It’s always something different. I’m a notorious chameleon so you just never know which version of me you’re gonna get. Hell, I don’t even know til I’m fully dressed and ready to walk out the door!

Has how you were dressed ever affected your tips or customer interactions in any way?

I make bold statements and that can be polarizing, but for the most part I think it works in my favor. In a world where we are constantly inundated with images of “influencers” all selling us the same ideas over and over, everything is so homogeneous and incestuous. So I’d like to think that it’s refreshing to see someone shaking up the mundane day to day.

How has your style changed since when you first started bartending?

When I first started bartending, I was in all black like every other invisible drone is supposed to be in restaurant bars and yearned for individuality and acknowledgment. Everything outside of work was an event. Elaborate, meticulously put together outfits with no regard for comfort whatsoever. “Pain is fashion” or whatever, blah blah blah.

Breaking into bartending as a woman was (and still is) an arduous task and I wanted to be taken seriously for so long. Then over the years I started working in bars that gave free license to dress how I wanted, and I began to understand that individuality and perspective were (and have always been) my money-makers. So, naturally, my play-wear began to infiltrate my work-wear.

What do you think are some misconceptions people might have about how bartenders dress?

I think the most common misconception might be that how bartenders dress is a direct reflection of how they feel about their customers, but really it’s how they feel about themselves.

Do you have a style icon?

I don’t necessarily look to specific icons, however my main inspiration tends to come from the decades themselves. Super specific periods of fashion really turn me on. From the renaissance to 90s grunge, I pull from it all. So sometimes I ask myself: Who am I gonna be today? 50s house wife? 40s pinup? Post-apocalyptic steampunk scavenger? 80s Glamrock diva? A Tudor Rose? With me, ya never know. And I like it like that.


Photos by Sabrina Santiago.

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