(Real Wardrobes is a photo essay series exploring personal sartorial styles.)
I don’t know where I am a local. I was born in Rhode Island. Then we moved to Florida because my dad was getting his Ph.d. We got out of Florida as soon as he finished because, who wants to be black in Florida in the 80s. Then I went to boarding school in various places in Kenya. Back to Rhode Island for university. And now I am here in Brooklyn. I still need Google Maps when I am getting around Brooklyn and Nairobi.
My mom is a badass. She is one of Kenya’s first female chemical engineers. She holds six patents. She buys most of my clothes. She bought this skirt that I am wearing and the matching top and I was like, “Hmmm, that’s not me.” But I kept it, because you know, mom. And then one day I put the skirt on, paired it with a different top, and it was perfect. I ditched the top, told my mom to give it away. So I like to take some things from one culture and pair it differently. I would describe my style as a mix of contemporary America and Africa. It’s like my accent – transatlantic.
I never ever leave house without my make-up. When I was thirteen years old, I used to get lots of acne. One day in chemistry class, this boy sitting behind me tapped me on the back and said, “Excuse me, could you please wear a mask so that we don’t have to see your ugly face?” And I had to pretend that was funny, I had to laugh. That’s when I started using makeup. Make up is my mask, my protection. Alice outside without make-up – not happening. Always foundation and mascara. Sometimes I skip mascara and wear my sunglasses. If I have to run to the store, I put on foundation. The other day I was running late and didn’t have time to wear foundation. So I walked to the subway with my head down.
The best fashion advice I got was from my aunt Mary. When I was moving to the US, she told me, “just because they have it in your size doesn’t mean you have to wear it.” So this dress on a mannequin catches your eye -- everything looks great on a mannequin -- and you go find it in your size. But is it going to look good on your body? Peplums look great on me because I have big breasts. Pencil stuff, not so much.
I don’t wear V-necks because I don’t want all the attention to go to my breasts. Here’s the thing. God blessed me with big boobs and a big butt. I don’t have to make anyone feel less because of that. I mean, people are paying money to make their boobs bigger. Good for them, but hallelujah that I don’t have to do that.
I am a Christian and I go to church regularly. So I am working on seeing myself as God sees me. When I look at the mirror, I don’t see 27-year-old Alice, I see 13-year-old Alice. And I want to tell her, be comfortable in your body. You are not fat. You don’t need anyone’s approval.
Over the years, I have learned the bone structure of my face. So parting my hair like this works great. Pulling back doesn’t. A good hairdresser can tell you things about your face that you wouldn’t realize on your own.
I used to wear Mac foundation all the time and then one day in Sephora, this nice young man put Make Up For Ever foundation on me and I was amazed. I didn’t know I could look so good. It was raining that day, but I didn’t want to go home. I kept walking around the city. I got into the subway but I didn’t take the express train, I took the local, because I thought – the world needs to see my face today.
As told to Shahnaz Habib, with photography by Jess Geevarghese