Welcome to Best Dressed, an Eater series where restaurant diners show and tell what they’re wearing out to dinner, from the small details to the splashy pieces — and how they approached getting dressed for each spot’s specific scene. After two years of inside time, how do we dress to go out these days?
The Restaurant: Booker’s
Location: West Philly
Cuisine: Southern with an emphasis on brunch
Menu Highlights: Fried chicken and waffles; a flight of mimosas; Booker’s salad with jumbo shrimp, corn, tomato, and bacon for brunch. For dinner: jerk oxtail, collared greens, and Creole vegan jambalaya.
When Booker’s restaurant opened in the Cedar Park neighborhood of West Philly in 2017, it swiftly achieved destination status for a solid New American all-day menu, with a heavy Southern influence. Serving jerk oxtail and blackened catfish in a bustling space with a lively bar, Booker’s has since become a night-out mainstay on Baltimore Avenue in the diverse neighborhood west of the Schuylkill River. Brunch at Booker’s, though, has always been the highlight, not only for its fried chicken, waffles, and mimosas — served with several juices alongside a bottle of chilled Champagne — but for the fashion of its clientele. At a recent Sunday morning brunch, cute and comfy was the name of the game — with an emphasis on cute.
Vanessa, management at the postal service, and Shavonne, public school principal
Eater: What brought you to Booker’s today?
Shavonne: I was just telling her: I’ve come here once with my mentee for dinner and then I came back with one of my girlfriends for brunch.
Do you dress differently when you’re going out for dinner versus when you’re going for brunch?
Shavonne: When I’m coming for dinner, it’s usually after work, so I’m dressed in my regular professional attire. But Sunday brunch, we wanna look cute and be comfortable.
Because you’re in a school setting, do you find that you like dressing up more on the weekends?
Shavonne: I wear suits, and I wear business casual or business attire to school. I dress up every day [to go to work], so I guess I dress down more so on the weekends.
How did you decide what you were going to be wearing today? You’ve got a jumpsuit on, yeah?
Shavonne: Yep, so I didn’t want my thighs to rub together — you’re asking me, so I’m being honest. It’s too hot for that, so I have on pants but something cool.
Where are your sunglasses from?
How did you decide what to wear today, Vanessa?
Vanessa: I love long sleeves so it doesn’t really bother me much whether it’s hot or cold. Most of my outfits, I wear long sleeves. This [jumpsuit] is [from] Amazon.
It looks comfortable.
Vanessa: Oh yes, oh yes. Only thing is, I’m short — 4’11” — so I have to hem most of my things.
And the bag, tell me about that.
Vanessa: It’s kind of messed up a little bit because I spilled some oil, but this was from a young lady on Facebook who sells bags. It was only $60!
Do you feel that there’s a certain way people dress when they come to Booker’s?
Shavonne: Based on my experience, most people are just kind of cute and comfy.
Tyeisha, Tasia, Britney, and C.J., friends from dance school
What brought you out to brunch today?
Britney: It’s my birthday!
C.J.: It’s a birthday celebration. We’re friends but we’re kind of like family.
Tasia: We’re sisters. We met at dance school over 10 years ago.
For your birthday, how did you decide what you wanted to wear?
Britney: For me, I’m always just like, What’s comfortable? I’m going to brunch, I’m probably going to eat a lot, so I need something that’s flowy. But then, once I find an outfit, I’m like, “What earrings are going to go with this?” Something that’s going to go with us, something that has contrast. Always looking fun and happy, like you’d feel when you were at brunch.
So accessories are really important to you?
Britney: Yes. These are made by a woman whose Instagram is called Paper Papayas. She makes handmade earrings, she’s based in Vegas. I lived there for five years so I know a lot of people there.
Tasia, how did you decide to dress up for today?
Tasia: You know, there’s no method. I wanted to be comfortable but cute. What do they call it, comfy cazh? Simple jean shorts, sandals, and a long, loose top. Because I know that I’m going to eat, so I need something with room. Cute and comfy, that’s my motto.
Tyeisha: I’m the same, I love cute and comfy. I also nurse [my child] so I’m always trying to make sure I’m wearing something that’s easy to access, to get into.
C.J.: All of the above. Today, specifically, knowing it’s the season and knowing it’s a birthday because I know who my friends are, we all try to be our own individuals. But I was like, You know what, this dress would be perfect to match her style. To fit in and still be individual.
Has the pandemic changed how you dress at all?
Tasia: I learned that I hate clothes. Who should wear bras anymore? There should be a law.
C.J.: There should be a law!
Tasia: Because [the] outside [world] is open now, I feel like I’ve changed what I want [in order] to wear my clothes. In the beginning, we were comfortable for two years at home, so now we’re getting back to regular stuff, and I’m changing the way that I want to feel.
Britney: I’ve always gone for comfy, so I love things that flow, especially when it’s summertime, hot and humid. I want something that breathes. I don’t want my clothes to stick to me.
C.J.: I always try to be authentic in fashion, pandemic or not. Still dressing up or not, being a teacher and being behind the screen all day, I still have to dress or wear a certain type of way. But yeah, comfort is the main thing. I want to say that’s the one thing about our group, is that we’ve always been our most authentic selves. If anything, the pandemic brought out more of what we really want to do and how we really just want to show up for ourselves.
Do you find that even though you like to be comfortable, you have nights that you really dress up anyway because you miss it?
Britney: I think I’m always a dressy person. I think sometimes people are like, “Britney, it’s a casual dress code.”
Tasia: I’m the complete opposite. I am yoga pants, workout clothes, very just plain-Jane, that’s just my thing. So sometimes getting dressed up is a challenge for me. I’m trying to get more into that as I get older, because I want to express myself differently.
Is there a thing that you leave the house wearing where you’re like, this is my thing?
Britney: I actually left the house without it today. They’re called MantraBands. They’re bracelets but they have mantras on them. One of them I got customized to say something that is meaningful for me. I don’t wear necklaces but I love my earrings and I love my MantraBands. As I was driving, I was like, “I forgot it!”
That’s not bad luck, right?
Britney: Nah, it’s not bad luck, I can live without it. But I always like to have it.
Tasia: I love accessories. I’m more of a simple black outfit but I’ll accessorize. I love different rings and bracelets. I wear layered necklaces. Not today because of my shirt. Because I’m a plain-Jane, that’s my expression.
Tyeisha: I always carry crystals in my bag, to protect us spiritually. With kids it’s hard to have jewelry on. If I don’t have them, I usually wear a nice ring.
Do you have crystals on you now?
Tyeisha: Yep, here in my bag!
C.J.: Don’t let it touch the ground! For me, my hair [is my accessory]. It’s one thing you can’t take off. My glow, too: I want to make sure that my skin is moisturized. Tyeisha’s our hair stylist, too.
That’s a good friendship.
C.J.: We like to keep it within the circle.
Tiffany, senior patent editor, and Kim, train engineer
What brought you to brunch at Booker’s today?
Tiffany: I love the food.
Do you come often?
Tiffany: This is our second time here.
Has the pandemic changed what you wear when you go out to eat now?
Tiffany: It sure does. When I was in the office, I was getting dressed. But now that I’ve been working from home for three years, that’s not happening.
Do you dress up more or less?
Tiffany: I personally dress up less.
[Champagne overflows from a mimosa flight.]
Kim: I told her, you should let the bartenders make these drinks because I keep on spilling mine.
What’s the deal with this drink?
Tiffany: Oh it’s a mimosa [that you can make with] orange juice, pineapple juice, mango juice, or cranberry juice.
Kim, would you say you also dress up less now?
Kim: First of all, single women always dress up. Pre-COVID. After COVID. Single women dress all the time because we always on the prowl.
Are you dressing up more now?
Kim: It’s probably the same now. I had to get back into it because of the pandemic.
When you left today, what were you thinking about what you wanted to wear, how to look?
Kim: You always wanna look cute and sexy, that’s always. Single women do.
Tiffany: I’m partial single.
Is there anything you have to be wearing when you leave the house to feel like yourself?
Kim: Lipstick, yes! Red or pink.
Tiffany: I still haven’t come out the pandemic. I was trying to match my shoes to my bag. My shoes are just like the purse, a cow material. I just couldn’t find out where I put them at. Oh you know what, can I tell you who made this bracelet? She does pop-up shops — Naisha Tyler from House of Stuyvesant, she’s in Manayunk. This belt, I got at the consignment store.
Kim: I’ve been doing all bag belts. It’s just so convenient. I’ve got all kinds of handbags and stuff, but these you just put them around your waist.
Maryse, Rae, Elizabeth, and Zohar, friends who met in Boston
Has the pandemic changed your approach to what you wear when you go to dinner or brunch?
Rae: I mean, I knew that we were going to be sitting outside today. So I dressed in shorts and blousy things for that reason.
Zohar: I think of it as a return to a joy of putting on an outfit after not doing that for so long. It’s kind of fun to play dress up in that way.
Maryse: The biggest change from [before the pandemic started] to now is that I only basically wear sneakers and comfortable sandals. I don’t even own uncomfortable shoes anymore.
Elizabeth: I no longer wear underwear or bras at all. Pretty much never.
Rae: I don’t think that’s specific to dining out.
Elizabeth: No, but that is the case. I also don’t wear heels anymore. Ever. Gone.
Brunch is a more casual setting than dining out at night, but did the pandemic change how you might decide to get dressed to go out this morning?
Rae: I don’t know if I would have been this casual, if I’m being 100 percent honest. I was kind of bougie. I was bougier, for sure. These are elastic waist shorts. [I would] not wear leggings if I was going out of the house. I probably wouldn’t be wearing this crop top if I’m being quite honest.
Rae: I don’t know. I think it maybe just felt too informal or too revealing. I think I’m just more casual and comfortable — it’s hot, I’m going to wear the crop top. Screw it.
Is the crop top from ARQ?
Rae: Yes. They’re so comfortable. I wear it around the house, I wear it outside the house.
Elizabeth: You do wear that all the time.
Zohar: I’m not wearing a bra today. But that’s not pandemic-related.
Maryse: That’s just laundry-related.
When you came to a place like Booker’s, did you think people dress this way or do you dress completely yourself no matter where you go?
Maryse: Completely myself wherever I go.
Elizabeth: The pandemic ate all my jeans. I don’t own jeans anymore. They all broke and I didn’t replace them, so this was the choice.
Is there anything you miss about dressing before the pandemic began?
Maryse: I feel like I was slightly more femme before the pandemic [began]?
Maryse: Okay I was a lot more femme before the pandemic [began].
Elizabeth: I was more femme and I’ve let go of that.
Maryse: I’m fine with my gender expression now, but yeah, I guess I miss that a little bit.
Rae: I wore a lot more lipstick. But now I don’t because of masks and it gets up all over my face. I feel like a bold lipstick used to be my signature.
Maryse: You had a lot of great purples.
Elizabeth: So many purples.
Is there anything y’all are wearing now that you love to wear? This is the thing I wear wherever I go, whenever I go out to eat, that kind of thing?
Rae: I need to wear these glasses to see.
Elizabeth: You have all kinds of glasses.
Rae: I feel like I just have a big head and a big face and I need something to balance that. These are from the discount rack.
Maryse: They’re very you. Not many people could pull those off.
Zohar: For me, a big part of my style is my hair. The pandemic was a little journey. I taught myself how to cut my hair. Now that I can go to a barbershop, I prefer it because the hair gets everywhere in the bathroom. But yeah, just feeling like, during the pandemic, not feeling fully myself because my hair was not always the best. But now, it’s a big joy to be able to regularly get a touch-up.
So when you go out are you thinking about styling it?
Zohar: Yeah, making sure that it’s fresh.
These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Naomieh Jovin is a first-generation Haitian American and photographic artist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.