Hey hey Rebooters! It’s time for our next guest of Season 4 – and she’s a corker! Joining us today is Lois J Elise – stylist, model, academic, author and beret designer!
Lois J Elise is so many things, we almost can’t keep up… she’s a stylist, a model representing the actual average size in the UK, an academic with a PhD who’s writing an approachable book, and she’s just launched a new line of berets in collaboration with a traditional milliner.
We asked her to tell us a bit more about herself to kick off this episode, knowing we’d probably get some fabulous stories… and we weren’t disappointed!
A vintage inspired fashion stylist who does contemporary fashion, personal styling and commercial styling, she helps individual people look lovely for a wedding or occasion, and also styles brands, commercial photoshoots, things like that.
Her PhD (yep, she’s Dr Lois!) is in cinema and fashion history in Japan in the 1920s and 30s, and this is also the subject of her forthcoming book.
She’s passionate about body positivity, promotes it through her work in fashion, and especially as a model. As a UK size 14, she represents the actual average sized woman in the UK.
Oh, and she has just launched Beret Nice Berets, and she’s a passenger boat skipper – possibly our favourite combination of multipoddery yet.
A wonderfully interconnected series of events
At 29, that is one hell of a background – so how did she get there? She said she’s never been someone who plans what to do at certain ages, and instead just goes from one happy accident to the next.
Inspired by her Dad – “you’ve got to be in it to win it” and her Grandpa “we say yes” – she’s spent her life so far doing exactly that. Though she did briefly want to be a helicopter pilot as a child.
Lois’s life story is a gloriously interconnected series of events, all of which led her to the range of things she does now.
From a child who never had any kind of background in fashion, who was tomboyish and cuddled her toy truck at night, emerged Lois J Elise. She tells us this started with Japanese.
What we talked about
Taking Japanese at university. The unexpected moment that changed everything – when she was the only person from a party who actually submitted an application to Take Me Out. ( Saturday night reality show in the early 2010s, and was very much of its time!)
Getting the audition (while pushing a 30 tonne passenger boat out, as you do), giving it a go out of curiosity, and actually getting on the programme.
The culture shock of the world of Take Me Out – where all the women are fit, super girly and really into their hair and makeup. They’re also excellent and lovely people, but it was the first time Lois had learned about the hyper feminine representation they embodied.
For her, it joined the dots between how you feel in your clothes, how people respond to your clothing, all of those things. She also realised that although she was getting public hate for being a size 14 in a sea of size 0s, every single girl on the programme was also getting hate.
And she realised that what she looked like wasn’t the problem – it’s how people were responding. How we’ve been conditioned to react and feel to how women dress and what they look like.
Connecting the dots further
Back at university, Lois took a class on Japanese cinema history. Learning that in the 20s and 30s, Japanese actresses were expected to emulate western style actresses, so they were recruited from women in the countryside who were strong and strapping, and would fill out the dresses.
And they almost all had regional accents, which became trendy – and which struck a chord with Lois, who had got a lot of criticism on TV for having a deeper voice than most women.
Once she’d seen these parallels, and how clothes which fit these actresses were marketed to ordinary Japanese women, and how fashion became all about changing your body to fit a fashionable aesthetic – she realised it’s still exactly what’s happening now.
Her PhD grew from this initial research, and so did her modelling and styling career.
Don’t expect people to do something unless you’re willing to do it
We love this woman and her attitude so much!
While researching her PhD, she wanted to test a theory – that it should be possible to create the same standard of fashion images with ordinary and average sized women as we do with conventional fashion models. (Obviously we are massively on board with this idea!)
Realising that she needed to do it herself if she was expecting other people to do it, she entered a modelling contest for a boutique in Manchester – and became the face of their shop for a year with a modelling contract.
Another string to her bow which was so much fun she kept doing it!
A platform for every woman
You can only exist in one body, but Lois is passionate about representing the woman she is and the women that look like her, but also making a platform and visibility for other women who don’t look like her and are also not seen in conventional fashion – women of colour, women who are a lot smaller, a lot larger, all kinds of people. Not even just women, people – we’re all buying clothes and we all deserve representation.
Accidental berets – the best kind
So where do these fabulous berets fit in?
Lois is a big believer in intersectionality. So she says you can’t just look at one thing – say, sizing in fashion – without also taking into account for example fast fashion and the impact that has.
No demonising of fast fashion here – but much encouragement to reuse, pass on to a friend, and make sure it is loved to the end of its life rather than taking a few photos for Instagram and binning it after its second wash.
When she was teaching at university, up at 5am and trying to tame her crazy hair (her words not ours!), she accumulated berets because they kept everything in place and looked good. And she’d been wearing them since childhood, once her Mum showed her how to wear it at the right angle.
She wore them so often it became a Thing, and then she met and became friends with the milliner Adrienne Henry, who makes all kinds of beautiful hats for every occasion you can think of.
Between them they came up with the idea of a beautiful, wearable, all-natural-materials beret, suitable for every day but also pretty enough for occasions, and made from materials which will last a lifetime or several, but will also not fuck up the planet when it does reach the end of its life.
(We LOVE this idea of creating something which will have history and longevity and will become vintage in time.)
She also describes them as the French version of a beanie hat, which instantly makes them much more accessible and less scary to those of us who have never worn one!
Accidental or not, they have now launched and they are gorgeous – and can be made in custom colours, too!
Lois’s most glorious moment
In among all that brilliance, does any one moment stand out for Lois as a glorious one?
She says she has two – one for her, and one for someone else. We can tell you they involve London Fashion Week and an epiphany, but you’ll have to listen for the full story!
She also has the best attitude to internet trolls – a fascination with why they say what they do, and letting it fuel her curiosity rather than upsetting her.
And something she’s struggled with
Because we started Creative Reboot to talk about all the honest stuff – the good and the bad!
In another first for us, the struggle she shared with us is around academia – the academic job market in the UK is not great. She draws parallels with the creative industries, where everyone is scrambling around for jobs that aren’t always all that.
And exposure! Working for exposure! Argh! Even though in both academic and creative circles, you are bringing very specific knowledge, skills and training to the job you’re doing.
A note about portfolio careers
She also says (without any prompting from us, we promise) that while she’d love to do her creative work full time, there is no shame in anyone not being able to do that at any given time.
And that just because you have a “day” job which isn’t your passion in life, doesn’t mean you’re bad at the thing(s) you are passionate about. This links to academic pursuits too – not being able to work in employment related to your degree or PhD is no reflection on whether you are good at what you do.
We both very much agree, and Sarah points out that sometimes this setup can give you more freedom in your creativity, because you’re not putting any pressure on it.
We’d like to take the opportunity to highlight again that what you’re paid for does not necessarily have to equal what you do, what you love, or what you’re known for. Ok, we’ll get off our soapbox now!
Lois’s pearls of wisdom
Vintage pearls, of course!
Don’t let anyone ever tell you you can’t do something. And if they do, take the challenge to prove them wrong!
And then we had a short but joyful sidetrack into whether the three of us could set up a reform school for online trolls, and find out what makes them so sad that they need to be horrible on the internet to people they’ve never met.
After which, we asked Lois if her 14 year old self would believe her life now.
“Absolutely categorically not.” – because bullying, insecurity, internalised shit from people being awful and some of the trolling from TV. All of whom now get blocked when they follow her on Instagram because she’s a bit famous… which we very much approve of.
We want to give 14 year old Lois a massive hug, but we’re also very happy that she’d be so overawed by today Lois!
Phew, that was a lot of inspiration in one episode – with some wonderful pearls/nuggets of wisdom tucked in too.
Get more Lois in your life
Beret Nice Berets: https://beretnice.com/
And of course the book: is coming out next year, with Edinburgh University Press, and it’s an adaptation of her PhD thesis, written accessibly so normal people can read it. It’s about 1920s and 1930s Japanese cinema and fashion history, and the interaction between Western and Japanese fashion.