Nina Leen’s Glimpse Into LIFE

Have you seen these incredible photos by photographer Nina Leen? They’re part of the LIFE photo archive available through Google. Leen starting working for LIFE in 1945 and was one of the first female photographers at the magazine. A friend introduced me to her and her work, and I picked out some of my favorites to share with you today!

First, I just love the photo above. There’s something kind of dream-like about it, I guess. The pose as well as the dress with the shoes and headband are all so cute – enough to intrigue a couple of fellas rowing boats even! Everything about it makes me want to be there. Doesn’t the model kind of remind you of Casey from Elegant Musings?

The page where this is posted (click on each photo to go to the source) notes that this is Washington Square Park, which certainly isn’t so! T’is actually taken by “The Lake” in Central Park. The Beresford – the grand apartment building just above the model’s head – is a clear giveaway, situated quite happily on Central Park West between 81st and 82nd Streets since 1929. 🙂

There’s something quite classy about this outfit. I’d like to think she’s just left the office for a lunch date with her beau, and here she’s spotted him! The unusual hat looks so natural on her, yet can you imagine the kinds of looks you’d get walking down the street in it today?! The gloves have also become extinct in everyday life. Even though the woman in the background is wearing a coat, the model’s outfit makes me think of a warm summer’s day. I imagine it to be made of cool seersucker, but I have no idea if it really is.

I love the old street lamps, just visible to the left of the model. And good to see that the man on the right is wearing those pants nice and high – I guess my grandfather didn’t coin that look after all. 😉

Doesn’t she look like she’s spotted something great in the distance, whatever it is? Or maybe she’s just extra proud of her outfit and has an extra bounce in her step. I like how the gingham was cut in such a way that the darker checks run horizontally at the waistband; it breaks up the bodice and the skirt nicely. I keep meaning to do something like this! Actually, I love the thought of making the lower part of this dress so that I’d have a high-waisted gingham skirt with waistband. I don’t think I’d wear a dress like this since I wore too many blousey things in the ’90s to go back to it and I just don’t like long sleeves in woven fabrics. The hat is beautiful, though I’d never have the guts to wear it! Easier in those days when everyone wore ’em. 🙂

I’m also in love with those Greek Revival row houses, which are located on the north side of Washington Square Park. This group of houses is also known as “the Row” and are still there today. I just think the architecture and the outfits complement each other so well, in all these photographs! Each one enhances the other.

And how about this cute photo? So wonderfully ’40s. It kind of looks like they’re wearing the same outfit with variations at the bodice. I love both head pieces and the gloves class up the outfits. I find the heels interesting; the toe part comes up so high on the foot. Do you ever look at old photos like these and think about what was happening or being said directly before and directly after the shot?

This one in particular is taken in front of the Washington Memorial Arch in, once again, Washington Square Park. A little different from today since it was open to vehicular traffic at that time and remained so until the late ’50s.

I may be a dress-and-skirts kinda gal, but I do appreciate these high-waisted trousers (and what a cute hat!). I still have a similar pair I’d like to get around to sewing, but it’ll be more for the spring since I’d be using light-colored fabric. I like how the model is wearing them with what look to be low wedge shoes; I hemmed my “Seabee” trousers for heels length because I have it in my mind that they look best with a bit of height, but this is a nice option too.

If you’re interested, the model is getting her shoes shined in, once again, Washington Square Park. Apartment buildings along MacDougal Street provide an elegant backdrop.

Hey, it’s a towel dress! How chic and practical. I love the shawl effect of the other towel draped around the model’s shoulder. Do you think this is a dress for the beach or something worn after a dip in the ocean? It doesn’t seem like she’s wearing it over a swimsuit… Regardless, I love the silhouette! It would look great as a summer dress in cotton or the like.

The woman next to her is saying, “How does she manage to look so glamorous in a dress made out of towels? Sheesh!”

Oooo, pretty and so very classy! Very Sofia Loren. I love the pairing of the black portrait blouse with the printed high-waisted pencil skirt. Both of these are available as patterns in Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing, and guess who just sent her red wool garbardine fabric to the dry cleaners for a steam press so it can someday soon become a pencil skirt? I had thought about pressing the fabric myself, but I just don’t have the time and it wasn’t even expensive to have it done for me so there you have it.

Okay, so these are just some of the photos in the LIFE photo archive. Check them out and see what you think! There are tons more to inspire you. But, in the meantime, did you have any particular favorites from the ones I’ve shared today?

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5 thoughts on “Nina Leen’s Glimpse Into LIFE

    • oonaballoona! (Auto-correct wanted to change that to piña balloons, random!!) So glad you found me on WordPress. Isn’t the towel dress amazing?? I was thinking of proposing a New York meet-up soon. Will write a post about it!

  1. I was amused that all the fellows in the row boats have ties on. Could you imagine someone going in a row boat with a shirt and tie? It’s amazing how ubiquitous tshirts have become.

    • I know! It’s pretty crazy. I went to the ballet the other day and so many people were in jeans, etc. So I guess if we’re not dressing up for those occasions there’s no way we’re dressing up for row boats in the park. Kind of a shame!

  2. Pingback: Slacking | Femdom News

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