Sammy Davis Jr. as Josh Howard, casino heister, sanitation worker, and World War II veteran
Las Vegas, January 1960
Film: Ocean’s Eleven
Release Date: August 10, 1960
Director: Lewis Milestone
Costume Designer: Howard Shoup
Tailor: Sy Devore
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Sammy Davis Jr. was born 95 years ago today in Harlem. Nicknamed “Mr. Show Business” in recognition of his vast talents, Davis had gotten an early start to performing when he joined his father and uncle to create the Will Mastin Trio, named after his uncle. Following his service in World War II, Davis cultivated his career as a singer, dancer, actor, and comedian.
Davis’ natural talent, stage presence, and quick wit brought him into the orbit of pallies Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, who were forming the seeds of what would become immortalized as the Rat Pack. (Sinatra wisely followed Davis’ suggestion that the group not call themselves “the Clan”, instead referring to themselves as “the Summit.”)
1960 was the high watermark for the Summit, when they pulled together an ensemble cast to make Ocean’s 11, a stylish heist film set in Las Vegas. The story originated from a gas station attendant talking to director Gilbert Kay, who shared the plot with Peter Lawford, who—in turn—bought the rights and eventually pulled Sinatra into the production. “Forget the the movie, let’s pull the job!” Ol’ Blue Eyes had reportedly joked after learning the plot.
The action is set on New Year’s Eve, where the Rat Packers and their cronies have planned the simultaneous robbery of five iconic casinos at the stroke of midnight. Unlike the modern remake directed by Steven Soderbergh, there’s little technical savvy needed to pull the job aside from a scientific understanding of how long it takes to sing “Auld Lang Syne” and the ability to cut power to several blocks of Sin City… which is where Davis factors in as Josh Howard, the team’s reliable demolitions expert.
Davis bookends the movie’s famous finale, which finds the ex-paratroopers saying goodbye to one of their number who was felled by a heart attack during the heist… and eventually mourning the millions they had liberated from the five casinos as well. The final shot follows Danny Ocean and his eleven—er, now ten—ex-commandos as they somberly walk up the Strip past the historic Sands Hotel and Casino.
The production of this scene was further immortalized in one of the few posed photos of the five core members of the Rat Pack—Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, and Joey Bishop—standing in front of the Sands marque bearing their names as it appeared on screen.
What’d He Wear?
The sobriety of the closing funeral brings Danny Ocean’s team together in suits for the only time as the planning and execution of the heists allowed for everything from comfortable knitwear to fashionable evening wear and even odd functional disguise in between. For the most part, the men dress in conservative single-breasted suits with the sole exception of Sammy Davis Jr., who rakishly breaks code in the sole double-breasted jacket of the group.
The cool dark brown subtly striped silk suit, shining under the bright Mojave Desert sunlight, was no doubt made for Davis by Sy Devore, legendary “tailor to the stars” who served the Rat Pack among other Hollywood luminaries of the era. Though Sy himself died during the latter years of the Rat Pack’s swingin’ sixties heyday, his Studio City shop continues to offer its customers a range of cutting-edge fashion with timeless sensibilities.
The trim suit was tailored to flatter Davis’ short and lean physique, the double-breasted jacket styled with sharp peak lapels that roll down to a single button at the bottom of three rows of two buttons each in a top-heavy trapezoidal formation in widths apart that taper down the front. By rigging Davis’ suit jacket with a lower-fastening 6×1 button formation rather than the more traditional 6×2, Devore neatly created a longer lapel line that flatters the 5’5″ entertainer.
Devore tailored the jacket with wide, padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads that also build up Davis’ chest. The ventless jacket has straight flapped hip pockets and a welted breast pocket, though Davis is the only one of the central Rat Packers to forego a pocket square. Each sleeve is finished with three buttons at the cuff.
The suit’s matching flat front trousers rise to Davis’ natural waist, which is just above the buttoning point of his jacket though this coordinates nicely with the double-breasted wrap to avoid the top of the trousers becoming visible with his jacket closed.
The trousers have a hidden hook-and-eye closure above the fly and slanted Western-style “frogmouth” pockets on the front. A lack of belt loops suggests the possibility of side adjuster tabs, though a talented tailor like Sy Devore would have cut the trousers to fit Davis without the need for additional support. The plain-hemmed bottoms break cleanly over the tops of his brown leather cap-toe oxfords. His dark brown socks continue the leg line of his trousers into the shoes, detailed only with thin tan double stripes along the sides.
Davis wears a white cotton shirt with a large and shapely button-down collar, also the favored collar of his fellow “rat” Dean Martin. His dark brown silk tie is just a shade warmer than the suit, tied in a small and tight four-in-hand and worn with the blade tucked into the waistband of his trousers.
As with many stars, a number of watches have been attributed to Sammy Davis Jr. over the years. The entertainer had a taste for unique watches, almost exclusively in yellow gold, ranging from his Cartier Pasha moon phase quartz watch (a gift from Frank) to a series of watches branded with his own name and even a custom Jamie West watch with a photo of Davis and his wife Altovise emblazoned on the dial.
Josh’s more subtle yellow gold wristwatch in Ocean’s 11 doesn’t appear to be anything quite so extravagant, but it was undoubtedly Davis’ personal timepiece seen for this scene.
How to Get the Look
Ever the individualist, Sammy Davis. Jr.’s style stands apart from his Rat Pack colleagues, eschewing the businesslike gray single-breasted in favor of a flashier brown double-breasted, cut to flatter his unique physique by the rightfully legendary Sy Devore.
- Dark brown subtly striped silk tailored suit:
- Double-breasted 6×1-button suit with sharp peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Flat front trousers with side adjusters, “frogmouth” front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton shirt with large button-down collar and 1-button squared cuffs
- Dark brown straight tie
- Brown leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Dark brown socks with tan side stripes
- Gold wristwatch on expanding bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.