Style Dossier: E Lai Sterns

Welcome back to Style Dossier, Gabrielle Royal’s column that profiles stylish queers across the country. This edition, dapperQ is featuring E Lai Sterns, an entrepreneur, a creative and style enthusiast currently residing in San Francisco, California. A native from St. Louis, Missouri, E has a bachelor’s degree in advertising and marketing and later moved out west to earn a masters in UX design and new media. E has worked for several design agencies and has founded and invested in multiple media based companies, working on high profile projects for clients such as NIKEiD, Olivia Travel, Ellen DeGeneres, Charlotte Russ, and many more. E also runs his own style and travel website dedicated to empowering others “to seek out their own personal style, find confidence to forge their own path and be proud of who they are.”

dapperQ: Why is queer visibility in travel and fashion important? How do your platforms help create space for members of our community? How do they challenge mainstream travel and fashion platforms?

E: Travel and fashion happen to be two things I enjoy and am good at, but I think no matter what your interests are it is vital to have queer representation in a world where the odds can feel stacked against us via stigma, discrimination, or hatred.

Growing up in Missouri, there weren’t many visuals I could look to that represented my identities around being queer, let alone positive ones. Sexuality and gender can be really hard to grapple with as kid, especially when you are queer and trans. I would have loved to have seen queer positive influences who I related to doing what they love to do and being successful at it when I was still just trying figure myself out.

While I was always masculine presenting growing up, my sense of style and fashion came later in life as you might expect. As a working class kid there wasn’t much money for fancy clothes and shiny accessories. Instead, when I was lucky enough to have a little money to spend which wasn’t often, I’d go to the mall and buy off the rack clothes at a discount, wishing that the menswear I was interested in wearing would fit just like I’d see on the ads … and it never did.

It wasn’t until later when I worked my way up through several jobs and started my own companies that I had disposable income to spend on bespoke and sartorial menswear that fit and looked just right on my body. I remember the first custom blazer I got and how amazing I felt when I put it on. The sheer confidence and joy it brought me was like none I’ve felt before. It was like I was stepping out into the world as me for the first time. To some it might sound silly, but to me clothing and the way it can make me feel is incredibly powerful as a trans man.

I’ve always had a passion for traveling the world and exploring what this planet has to offer. It’s how we grow and evolve as humans. That connection with others from different backgrounds and cultures is life changing. When I’m traveling I’m constantly on the lookout for menswear and how it is represented in that particular country. Especially, when I come across fellow family who are non-conforming, genderqueer, or trans men. While being mindful not to appropriate those cultures, it does give me inspiration for how to elevate my own personal look and style.

I think my platforms create a space for members of my community to find visuals and stories that they can relate to you, get inspiration from, and find connections to others who might be just like them. It’s a space of positivity and encouragement and that goes beyond the pretty photos. If you read the comments, and not just the ones about me, you’ll find people actually engaging with one another, some of whom don’t even know each other. I also get a lot of direct message from people who send me their stories and share their life’s journey with me, which has been incredibly impactful and inspiring for me as a trans man who just started taking testosterone earlier this year.

I think the way I challenge other mainstream platforms is by continuing to cross barriers, knock down obstacles, and overcome adversity and stigma for trans and gender nonconforming folks by showcasing my own personal style and love for fashion as a trans man. Proving that menswear is not confined to one gender and in fact goes beyond the binary.

dapperQ: How much of your personal style is influenced by your identity?

E: A huge part of my style, my swag, who I am as a person is directly correlated to my queerness. These interconnected identities are what make me, me. I can’t have one without the other and I wouldn’t want to. Fashion is just one vehicle I use to share my style, my story, and ultimately my queerness. It’s one of the ways I come out to the world everyday.

dapperQ: Who is your biggest fashion icon and why?

E: I have many and the change all the time, but here are a few … Benjamin Melzer is a trans man that makes keeping in shape and style seem effortless. What I appreciate about him is that he shows you the hard work he’s put in to getting to where he is today. Another is Danielle Cooper, she can wear a suit like nobodies business. Always looks flawless and keeps it real with her followers. Her authenticity shines. Last but not least, Blake Scott. This dude is beyond knowledgeable around sartorial menswear. From textures, patterns, color blocking, and fit; his vibe both casual and suited always has me drooling.

dapperQ: What advice would you give our readership? What advice can you offer to people who fit outside of society’s understanding of traditionally masculine and feminine styles?

E: Well, for those who are reading this and are interested in my particular style I often find myself telling folks to invest in pieces that will last you a lifetime. Investing in your wardrobe doesn’t mean you have to go broke doing so. If the fit is right, and not only does it look good, but makes you feel good … make the investment and bring it home.

To those of us who fit outside of society’s traditional constructs of masculine and feminine styles, life is too short to not live the life you were destine to live. There have been times where I’ve second guessed myself in either wearing what I wanted to wear or being my authentic self as a trans man for fear of rejection from family and friends or society at large. Surround yourself with people who are going to uplift you. I think you’ll find that our community has a remarkable way of pulling to together in support of one another.

dapperQ: Tell us something unique about you!

E: I was a Taekwondo athlete for 20 years and am a 3rd degree black belt. I competed all over and to travel to some amazing places. The perseverance, discipline, drive, and hustle I have to be successful in life can partially and profoundly be attributed to my time as an athlete.

dapperQ: What can we expect next from you?

E: This year has been a transformational year (literally). As I continue through my transition as a trans men in the fashion world, I set out to inspire and empower others to seek out their own personal style, find confidence to forge their own path and be proud of who they are.

Want more of E’s travel adventures and style? Stay connected at:

Instagram: @elaisterns

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