New Year's Eve. Las Vegas.
Say these five little words to almost any man and watch as you evoke a near Pavlovian rush of adrenaline and excitement. Credit this to director Lewis Milestone's 1960 classic Ocean's 11, a film that centers on a New Year's Eve heist in Las Vegas orchestrated by some of the most marvelous Men of Style ever. Of course I'm talking about The Rat Pack--Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Sammy Davis Jr. Offscreen this close group included some of the greatest singers of all time, known for their slightly tipsy and spontaneous performances in Vegas where one would be booked and the others would follow...all the way up onto the stage. The marquee at the Sands casino, perhaps their favorite venue in Las Vegas, would even post "Dean Martin - Maybe Frank Sinatra - Maybe Sammy Davis Jr." before a show. The lifestyle of this band of brothers--girls, gambling, drinking, and what a wardrobe--was already in place when Lawford discovered and bought the film rights to this story. Ocean's 11 is what shared their style with the world.
Interestingly, the original Rat Pack goes back to Humphrey Bogart and his New York friends in the 1950s. Upon returning to LA from one particularly party-packed trip to Vegas, wife (and den mother) Lauren Bacall allegedly affectionately pronounced, "You all look like a damn rat pack." There is no doubt that they loved to drink for days...the group included the likes of Spencer Tracy, David Niven, and Cary Grant as well as Katharine Hepburn and Judy Garland. It also originally included Sinatra, who picked up where the old guard left off and invited Dean, Sammy, Peter, and Joey into the mix for all the fun. When Bogart died in 1957, the new guard respectfully left the name behind and began calling themselves The Summit or The Clan instead. But journalists would not let "The Rat Pack" go...keeping the name alive and forever associating it with their incredible 1960s style.
Most of the story of Ocean's 11 takes place on New Year's Eve as a platoon of World War II veterans set out to rob five Las Vegas casinos--the Sahara, Riviera, Desert Inn, Sands, and Flamingo--all in the course of one night. These are no ordinary veterans either...we learn they are part of the decorated 82nd Airborne, which faced the most challenging operations of the war such as the Normandy invasion and Battle of the Bulge. Thus, we are to understand that Lt. Jimmy Foster (Lawford), Sgt. Danny Ocean (Sinatra), and the others are extraordinarily resourceful men. Even a caper such as this pales in comparison to those situations they have already survived. In fact, Danny is accused by his estranged wife Bea (Angie Dickinson) of only being interested in danger. Nevertheless, the odds are seriously stacked against Ocean's 11 both during and after the heist; we are reminded just who owns these casinos with a cameo by George Raft. But these are smooth criminals...with a suave style that applies to both the heist itself and how they look while (hopefully) getting away with millions.
Of course the real style story of Ocean's 11 are those iconic suits. Costume designer Howard Shoup created the clothes for the ladies in the film and also oversaw everything in the production. But the men's suiting is courtesy of Los Angeles tailor Sy Devore. Devore was already outfitting the Rat Pack offscreen and making a real impact when it came to changing men's style. He should be credited with many modernizations in American menswear. The boxier cut of 1950s suiting was quickly being replaced with those like his that were all cut closer to the body. Then of course his suits were custom tailored to a T for clients. In addition, he made his lapels much more narrow...Sinatra, in particular, preferred ones that were exactly 2 1/4" wide. Devore also used other tailoring tricks that elongated the body, such as buttons that started lower on the jacket and eliminating cuffs on the trousers. Though the men ranged in size from 5'3" (Davis) to 5'8" (Sinatra) to nearly 6' (Lawford), each one wanted to look his long and leanest. Even 5'11" Dean preferred that his neckline end a little bit higher to maximize the effect.
As a result of his design innovations, Devore dressed the hottest men of Hollywood. Sidney Poitier, Richard Burton, and Rock Hudson were among those befriended by the Rat Pack and who followed their sartorial lead. Even Lawford's stylish brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, chose Sy Devore as his tailor. Being body conscious, these suits were made of soft wools and silks so they felt as good as they looked. Even his casual wear was influential and included sweaters, such as Joey Bishop's signature sweaters throughout Ocean's 11, that alternated between adding exciting pops of color to an outfit to making a monochromatic long, lean silhouette. It is no wonder that every man in the universe still wants to emulate them. Part of the appeal of these men is also their great friendship; they enjoyed spending time with one another at Sy's store after dining and drinking at the nearby Brown Derby. Though the original store on Vine Street near Sunset Boulevard is now closed, you can visit Sy Devore now in Studio City where they continue to carry on the great tailor's tradition.
Ocean's 11 and the style of Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack are the very essence of cool. Men's fashion publications like GQ, style sites like The Impossible Cool, and movies ranging from Reservoir Dogs (1992) to Swingers (1996) all show the ongoing influence of their sophisticated style and devil-may-care ways. How many guys today still take trips to Las Vegas trying to capture some of that quintessential cool? You'd be hardpressed to find a man who doesn't idealize the Rat Pack in some way...I mean, these guys made it cool for men to care about clothes. The images in this photo story only share some of its style, too. Ocean's 11 is a movie you must watch because the whole thing is stylish, from its Saul Bass credits to mid-century modern locations to that timeless wardrobe. There's no better way to kick off a stylish new year.
who also did iconic credits for movies like Vertigo
Ocean's 11 is shot a lot on location and Joey Bishop takes a stroll in a fur-trimmed trench coat
through Drucker's in Beverly Hills
Yes, this is how we meet Lt. Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford) and Sgt. Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra)...
being well tended by girls
being well tended by girls
I love the color orange on men--such as on Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair--
and Frank shows how to do it well with a mohair v-neck sweater
Planning to rob each of the five major casinos in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve
means nothing but the most sophisticated wardrobe for Ocean's 11
Always in sync, custom-made suits for the guys included details that made each seem taller--
closely cut to the body, narrow lapels, skinny ties, even a higher neck and French cuffs on Dean
Other members of Ocean's 11 included film noir favorite Richard Conte (above, center)
and fellow Rat Pack-er Joey Bishop in one of his signature sweaters
One of the few women allowed into the inner circles of the Rat Pack on and offscreen,
Angie Dickinson looks lovely in a belted navy shortsleeve wiggle dress and matching coat
She has such a striking silhouette that costume designer Howard Shoup
wisely kept accessories and jewelry to a minimum for Danny's classy but estranged wife Bea
Danny arrives just in time to talk to Bea before she leaves
Looking dashing in a salt and pepper wool coat and paisley pocketsquare
To separate the good girls from the bad, Shoup uses leopard trim on the jacket of jilted lover Adele...
played by Patrice Wymore, she was the wife of original Rat Pack friend Errol Flynn
Using bowling as a backdrop for last minute planning meant casual clothes,
which included sweaters for Frank (orange again), Joey, Peter, and even Norman Fell (below, far right)
Another of Bogart's original Rat Pack friends,
The Thin Man's Cesar Romero plays mafioso trouble-maker Duke Santos
New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip
New Year's Eve festivities at the various Las Vegas casinos is the backdrop for the caper,
starting with the Flamingo
The Sands is another target for the heist and where much of the action of the movie takes place,
largely because this is where the Rat Pack loved to perform offscreen as well
Trouble for Danny when Adele arrives with her well-dressed entourage
and spots him when sweeping into the casino
and spots him when sweeping into the casino
The third casino of the New Year's Eve heist is the Desert Inn
Garbage trucks are an integral part of the caper
as seen here going to the last two hotels of the heist--the Riviera and then the Sahara
Dean performs in the movie on location at the Sahara's Conga Room
in a perfectly tailored tuxedo for New Year's Eve
A bevy of beauties for Sam to choose from
all in dresses by Howard Shoup
The last shot of the movie starts on Sammy Davis Jr. in front of the Sands casino
and gradually reveals the rest of the Rat Pack as well
An iconic shot of the Rat Pack in their closely cut Sy Devore suits
that would later influence others like Quentin Tarantino for Reservoir Dogs
The final moment of the movie reveals the names of the Rat Pack on the marquee for the Sands casino