My Uniform: Photographer Alice Gao

My Uniform: Photographer Alice Gao

NY-based Photographer Alice Gao, needless to say, has an eye. And this extends well beyond her camera lens (though we love the evocative images she captures for the likes of WSJ, Kinfolk and her online journal, Aperçu). Her personal style—thoughtful, considered and refreshingly simple—is on a bit of a parallel path with her imagery. It doesn’t scream “look at me!” but it certainly commands attention. It isn’t something you could put into a box but at one point of her life she was labeled “Denim Queen” thanks to her amassed collection of 30 to 40 pairs of jeans. How this morphed into the Alice Gao of today? We’ll let her explain...


I grew up in East Brunswick, NJ and was always a tomboy so you’d almost never find me in a dress. I don’t think there was much “style” to speak of during my early years—I wore a lot of hand-me-downs and garage sale finds. As immigrants, my parents had to build a life from nothing and style wasn’t quite a priority when I was growing up. But in high school, something changed. I was nicknamed the “denim queen” and had maybe 30 - 40 pairs of jeans. I joined an online denim forum where I would buy and sell second hand designer jeans. It was a thrill! I became an “expert” at authenticating jeans and finding deals. I don’t remember much about my style otherwise, except that it always revolved around my newest denim finds. I learned to do an original hem by hand, so I hemmed all my incoming jeans myself! (Now I can barely thread a needle.) My taste far exceeded my income as a college student. But! I got a job at Buffalo Exchange and had first dibs on many of the incoming pieces I saw come in as a buyer. (You can imagine where most of my paycheck went!) I loved my easy uniform of blazers and jeans. I found out later that some of the girls in a small class of mine were intimidated by how much I “dressed up” for class. My style today is easy and pared-back for the most part. I keep to a fairly neutral palette and am drawn to clever details or great textures. 


I found out later that some of the girls in a small class of mine were intimidated by how much I “dressed up” for class. 



The first time I truly invested a chunk of change was when I bought my Cartier “Love” bracelet. I had just completed my first big commercial shoot, and I decided to take the plunge. I knew exactly what I wanted since I had been considering the purchase for so long. I waltzed in the boutique, and was out in less than 20 minutes. I felt high and disoriented afterwards. My heart was racing and in my throat the whole time to think about such a large purchase! 



As much as I’d love to wear heels and nice fabrics every day, when I am on set, it’s easily a 10-hour standing day and I get dirty from touching cords, stands, lights, etc. I can’t be precious. I also try to wear all black on shoot days because it helps to minimize my reflections or color cast onto the subject. 



She might kill me for saying this, but I think my friend and colleague Jessi Frederick (she’s a professional stylist) has had the biggest impact on the way I dress. Though I feel like a “schleppy granny” next to her, I really admire her personal style and when I’m debating a clothing or accessory purchase for myself, I often think, “But would Jessi wear this?” and that informs my decisions. 




Three Professions You’d Pursue If Not For Your Current Career:

  1. Cat cafe manager (I’m the ultimate crazy cat lady)
  2. Architectural millworker (I think it would be so amazing to build my own furniture and to be able to build a house)
  3. Vintage furniture/design goods shop owner 


Three Things You Never Leave Home Without:

  1. Eye drops (I suffer from awful dry eyes)
  2. My small hard drive that contains all my current projects as I’m often traveling between my home and office
  3. An extra canvas tote bag (I’m really trying to be better about not using plastic and even paper bags for shopping) 


Your uniform in 3 pieces:

  1. High-rise straight cut jeans
  2. Tucked in tee
  3. Oversized blazer


Thank you, Alice!


Alice was photographed in her Manhattan studio by Taylor Jewell

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