Never Off Duty
Tony Lott, operations manager for Chef Emeril Lagasse’s team, enjoys trying out other occupational looks during his off time.
Step inside the corporate offices on St. Charles Avenue of Chef Emeril Lagasse called Homebase and you will think you have just opened the pages of GQ Magazine.
The word is out that this is one of the “best dressed” offices for men in New Orleans (not to mention the women are also fashion plates). Now meet Tony Lott, Operations Manager of Chef Emeril’s team with 24 years of service.
“Yes, there is an unwritten policy of wearing suits during our working shifts,” he says. “I like the idea of dressing up for work.” Then he smiles, and adds, “When I am not working I enjoy having my own style that is in sharp contrast to my work wardrobe.”
A visit to Tony’s fashionable Uptown home will reveal a collection of embroidered work shirts that he has spent a decade collecting. He changes into them when he sheds his workday suits.
“My collection started with used filling station shirts and it has stretched to all old discarded work shirts,” he explains. “Now it includes everything from shirts worn by security officers to airplane maintenance men.”
“Going from dress shirts to work shirts is fun,” he continues. “I never did it to get attention, but my shirts have generated some interesting reactions. Tony spoke of sitting in a coach seat on a plane and the stewardess walked up and asked him, ‘Are you working today?’ When he said yes, she invited him to sit in first class.
“I was curious why she invited me to first class but I quickly took her up on the offer,” he says. “Then I looked down and saw that I was wearing an aircraft maintenance shirt of the maintenance service company for the jet I had just boarded. In the end we both had a good laugh.”
Does he have a favorite work shirt?
“It’s the first shirt I purchased,” he says. “I found it hanging outside a thrift shop near the Huey P. Long Bridge on my way to play golf at the TPC Louisiana Golf Course in Westwego. It’s an old tan Shell Oil Station shirt and the name on the embroidered badge is Mahmoud. I found the name hilarious and often wear the shirt when boarding flights. It draws attention at the security gate, and I smile when I am asked ‘Why doesn’t the name on the shirt match the one on your driver’s license?’”
Nobody complains about the expense of Tony’s hobby. “I rarely pay more than $5 for a shirt and my average cost is about $3, and now that my friends know about my collection they often give me shirts for gifts.”
Where is his favorite shopping spot for his shirts?
“There’s a great second hand industrial clothing store on Jefferson Highway that always has a massive collection with humorous names and occupations,” he answers. “I never fail to find something I must have on each visit.”
He also enjoys shopping for his shirts when he travels. “I have found them at Secondhand Blues in South Beach, Florida, and at a great store in Savannah, Georgia.”
Tony also gives work shirts as gifts to people he knows will appreciate them. “My gifts are a big hit,” he says “In fact, during my off time I’ll often see my friends wearing the shirts I’ve given them. And it’s a form of recycling, so that’s good too.”
Although Tony’s coworkers often tease him when he goes to work wearing a work shirt on his off time, he takes it all in his stride.
“I’ve been called homeless, and told to go service their cars. Most will look at my badge and ask, ‘Who are you today?’”
In the end Tony is very philosophical about his hobby.
“I think people put too much energy in their aesthetic sense of beauty and often judge the book by the proverbial cover. Whether you’re a CEO or a gas station attendant, we’re all just people, and it’s just clothes, and who can complain when they get upgraded to first class on a flight because of their work shirt? It’s a fun hobby that has become quite an adventure.”