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Fashion in the Park

Fashion in Washington Square Park (looking toward the park’s southeast corner) — during the 1940s and 1950s, the park still had a road running through the middle of it (Fifth Avenue buses used it as a turnaround).

With Fashion Week ending yesterday, we thought we’d wrap up our week with a look at some fashions of yesteryear in which the Village played a supporting role. The urban landscape of our neighborhoods has long been a favorite for photographers both as a subject in its own right and as a character-filled backdrop.

The following photos are from the Life Magazine photo archive and represent a small fraction of the work of noted photographer Nina Leen. Leen was born in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, grew up in Europe, and by 1939 moved to the United States. Her photography was first featured in Life in 1940, and from then on she maintained a relationship with the magazine until it first folded in 1972. She became one of the first women contract photographers at the magazine and captured over fifty cover photos and numerous collections within the magazine. These included sets on the American teenager of the 1950s, wild and domestic animals, as well as a famous photo with a Greenwich Village connection — The Irascibles — a portrait of fourteen now-renowned artists, including de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko and others, who as noted in Life, “protested the Metropolitan Museum of Art refusal to include Abstract Expressionist works in a major 1950 retrospective of American painting.”

The photo below taken in Washington Square Park is some of Leen’s earlier American fashion work from 1942.  The wartime spirit is evident in the sensible slacks and first-aid study book.

Below to the left, we see the Washington Square Arch, still encircled by the street. You can hear directly from the people that helped close that street running through the park and prevent further destruction of it in GVSHP’s Oral History archive. The photo to the right was taken along Washington Square North and features (in addition to the model) ironwork that includes a row of anthemions — which piqued our interest as an anthemion is part of GVSHP’s logo and the name of our newsletter.


Washington Square Mews as seen below still exbhibits the same low-scale charm that it did in the 1940s.

Below we again see the anthemions of Washington Square North featured, as well as some fashion-forward headgear.

You can view more of Leen’s pioneering work here.

One response to “Fashion in the Park

  1. What incredible photos! And how elegant it all looks – the outfits and the architecture complement each other so well. Amazing how hats disappeared from everyday wear not too long after. A shame really.

    Thanks for sharing, very inspiring!

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