Raquel Riley Thomas never planned on becoming a model.
The former Army captain and ordnance officer had been working as a photographer since leaving the military, snapping photos of models and celebrities for Jet Magazine and other publications. One day, she walked into Elite Modeling Agency with the hope of getting onto their photographer referral list.
The Elite representative caught Thomas off guard: She was more interested in signing her as a model than a photographer.
”It threw me completely, because I had no idea I was looking like a model when I went there as a photographer,” she said.
Since that fateful encounter, Thomas has been featured on international billboard advertisements for companies like Coca Cola and Delta, won two major beauty pageants, become a fashion guru on two ABC morning shows (“Let’s Talk Live” and “Good Morning Washington”) and started her own production company, An Officer and Gentlewoman LLC.
Oh, and she also happens to be a social-media “beauty and fashion influencer” with more than 134,000 Instagram followers.
“I didn’t plan on it,” she said. “I just started putting up my fashion on Instagram.”
Thomas credits her love of fashion to her grandmother, whom she described as a consistently well-dressed woman and a “violin virtuoso.” Music runs in her family, as her great grandmother was also an opera singer. As a kid, Thomas took up the violin and was also briefly a drummer in an R&B band.
She said that being a drummer helped prepare her for her current role in the production world.
“As a drummer, you hold the beat and keep the whole group together,” Thomas said. “That’s how I feel now as a producer in theater. I’m holding the whole production together.”
Like music, the military is also a family tradition for Thomas. Both her mother and grandmother were in the Army, and Thomas thought “it would be befitting for me to go ahead and do the same thing they did.”
She earned an ROTC scholarship to Hampton University, where she graduated with a degree in psychology.
During her Army stint, Thomas worked as a photojournalist and an ordnance officer.
Thomas said she got into the ordnance field partially because there was a need for black women in that space. During her time as an ordnance officer, she worked on maintenance of large weapons and trucks and occasionally handled explosives.
“I launched some grenades,” she said. “But I wasn’t out there doing IED stuff.”
If you’re unsure how to combine both your military background and civilian style for fashion success, check out Raquel Riley Thomas’ advice on how to look your best.
By: Joshua Axelrod
She praised the military for teaching her many of the skills that have helped her succeed in civilian life.
“I have to admit that I learned a lot of discipline in the military,” she said. “I think it was really important to have discipline back then. I also appreciate the fact [that] I learned how to be a team player. That was key for transitioning into the civilian world and civilian jobs.”