NYC Looks Creator Liisa Jokinen on Documenting New York’s Iconic Street Style
The photographer shares some of her favorite looks, tells us how she got her start, what makes New York style so unique, and more.
There’s no place quite like New York City. And there’s no style quite like New York City’s. While street style photography has become popular over the past decade or so, particularly during fashion month, there’s only one real record of everyday people’s everyday looks in NYC thanks to photographer Liisa Jokinen, aka @NYC_Looks. Liisa has been documenting the city’s iconic street style on her Instagram account, after doing so in cities like Helsinki and San Francisco.
Here Liisa shares some of her favorite looks, tells us how she got into street style photography, what makes New York style so unique, and more.
How did you get into street style photography?
Liisa Jokinen: I was visiting Stockholm, Sweden for a music festival in July of 2005. Swedish people are known for being so stylish but I was looking around and admiring all the people there and wondering how there could be so many stylish people, but then I actually realized that yes, they are stylish, but they all followed the same set of rules. So no one really stood out from the crowd. And then I realized that Helsinki is actually more interesting in that regard.
So as soon as I got back home, I just grabbed my camera and started taking photos. because I already admired some subcultures that I could spot here. One of them was the glam rock kids. They were always hanging at the same spot, outside the museum for contemporary art in the city center. And then I realized that the style was unique because I really couldn’t spot that kind of kid in Stockholm at that time. I was thinking, Helsinki is so special that I should start documenting what I could see here and also Helsinki. It was still a relatively unknown city. And then I was thinking [street style] was something that I should document and show to the rest of the world. So I started taking photos and never stopped.
Left: Amanda, 24, SoHo, Mar 28, 2017
“So much inspires my style: retired men and the ladies of Chinatown, Spanish dancers, the desert. A good design goes a long way; clean, clever, concise. I like utilitarian functions, uniforms, and I try to buy good fabrics and clothes I can dance in. I love denim and have been getting back into flared pants, ruffled blouses, and bell sleeves. Oftentimes I’ll enjoy looking at something more than wearing it. Now I’m wearing a vintage french workwear jacket, Sangam button-up jacket, Uniqlo turtleneck, Levis 501 denim pants, London Fog trench, shoes unknown.”
LJ: After I photographed Amanda, another street style photographer approached me and asked if he could photograph Amanda and me for his project. After that, Amanda asked if she could also photograph me! Such a fun moment of us all photographing each other and connecting. I love Amanda’s photography and have now become friends with her.”
Right: Starr, 31, and Grey Iona, 9, Greenpoint, Nov 14, 2021
“It is cold so Grey Iona basically threw on whatever to keep her warm while I was selling vintage at the Hotspot Williamsburg. As a person who lives in the fantasy realm 80% of the time my wardrobe consists of very loud statement pieces. Hence the Victorian paisley coat and the church hat. My style is based on my mood and how I want the world to perceive me. I love me a good hat, the more dramatic it is the better. My go-to pieces are anything that’s loud and adds drama. I’m very small and petite so my wardrobe makes up for it.”
LJ: I love hanging at flea markets so I can meet vintage vendors for our Gem vintage search app and spot interesting looks at the same time. This photo was taken at “Hot Spot Williamsburg”, an unofficial outdoor flea market on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. It never disappoints.
What do you look for when you’re shooting street style in New York?
LJ: This is the question that people always ask me and, you know, when I see it, I know it, but it’s hard to describe before seeing the outfit. So I guess what I’m looking for is something that surprises me, something I haven’t seen before. It can be a weird or new color combination or some type of clothing that I haven’t seen in the stores. If it’s something that everybody’s wearing or if it’s something I can see everywhere, like on social media or if I go to a mall or open a fashion magazine, then that wouldn’t interest me so much.
Left: Linda, 71, Hell’s Kitchen, Feb 9, 2020
“I’m wearing a fake fur coat I got years ago in Paris, a Dries van Noten collar, a Sies Marjan skirt, and Chanel boots. My style philosophy is to wear what is comfortable and looks good. Everything inspires me. I have had the same style since I was a kid. It’s a way to be creative and have fun.”
LJ: This is one of my most liked photos and I’m not surprised! Shout out to my colleague Ari Seth Cohen who has been documenting “advanced style” for years. I love his work.
Right: Alok, 30, Midtown, Sep 9, 2021
“My top is from the Miranda Makaroff collection with Desigual, my skirt is Molly Goddard, my heels are Kat Maconie. I wanted to tell a compelling color story. I love how loud Moschino is and I wanted to bring that same panache to the streets on my way to their NYFW show.”
LJ: I admire Alok so much. For their art, work, and style, and speaking up and defending degender fashion and minorities. My long-time dream was to meet and photograph them and finally ran into them during fashion week.
What do you think makes New York City’s style so unique?
LJ: Shooting street style has just been the very best way to get to know a city and its people. I’m super happy that I continue taking photos because it’s also kept me super active…. This is a cliche but New York really is a melting pot because people from so many countries and cities and places come to New York, either just to visit or to live here. So I think that that is the thing that makes New York so unique because there are so many influences coming together. Also, New York is pedestrian friendly. You can see a lot of people wherever you go. It’s dense compared to Los Angeles, for example, where it’s really hard to observe people and people’s outfits. So that’s why, when I’m in New York, I see a lot of people and I think that for many New Yorkers, people-watching on the subway or the street is a hobby, the thing to do.
So I’m not the only one watching people. And I think that only also affects how we dress because many New Yorkers feel like the city is a stage. When you go out, you dress up because you are on a stage to be seen. Whereas in Helsinki, people dress much more just for themselves. In New York, people really want to present themselves in a certain way.
Left: Courtney, 34, Lower East Side, Sep 8, 2021
“I’m inspired by ease. My shoes are Gucci, socks Simone Rocha, bag Medea, and top Maryam Nassir Zadeh.”
LJ: Courtney, aka Always Judging on Instagram, is one of my personal style icons. She is always challenging the current and pushing fashion forward.
Right: Marion, 55, Chelsea, Apr 8, 2022
“I’m wearing Bottega Veneta clogs, R13 jeans, a 70s shirt, vintage tie with bunny appliqué (by myself), Chanel necklace, coat from Milan, Marni bag, Tom Ford glasses, and vintage and Swarovski rings. What inspires my style? Shirts and ties, a mix of suits and sportswear, and upcycling.”
LJ: Another personal style hero of mine! Marion inspired me to start wearing ties again after I took this photo. I have also done a blog post about Marion’s style for my vintage style blog Gem Stories.
Are there any particularly special memories from shooting street style in New York that come to mind?
LJ: There are so many, but of course, for me personally, the most valuable moments are when I take photos of people and they tell me after the photo is taken that they have actually been following my account for years. And I’m like, wow, that’s New York magic because in New York you can meet anyone because everyone visits New York at least once in their lifetime…. So you can run into any person here.
Left: Mai, 30, Chelsea, Apr 8, 2022
“I’m wearing a 40s dressing gown, a Gucci scarf from my grandma worn as a top, and matching shorts I found at Beacon’s Closet, and vintage platform boots. The ruched leather tote is Gianfranco Ferre. I like mixing eras, recontextualizing vintage pieces, and layering. Since moving to New York, I’ve been increasingly on the lookout for more robust and comfortable pieces, and the rave stompers are a perfect example of that.”
LJ: I love decade mixing; it creates the best looks in my opinion. Also layering and contrasts. I love how Mai is mixing a delicate 40s dress with sturdy 90s/00s boots.
Right: Elizabeth, 76, Carroll Gardens, Feb 17, 2018
“I’m wearing rain boots that I airbrushed green, PJ pants by Joe Fresh that I dyed green, a Uniqlo jacket, a faux fur knitted scarf, and Old Navy green gloves. I only wear the color green because it is such an amazing, positive and loving color. Loving people inspire my style, and the happiness that it brings.”
LJ: I was crossing the street in Carroll Gardens when I saw Elizabeth smiling at me on the other side of the crossroads. She is a Brooklyn legend and famous world over for wearing only green clothes. We have since become friends and she has given me some of her old clothes, which I treasure.
Left: Hee Eun, 21, Dumbo, Apr 4, 2021
“I’m wearing all thrifted clothes from Depop, Greenpoint Flea Market, and from a burlesque closet. My style is currently inspired by cottage-core and spy movie themes.”
LJ: So many personal favorites in this outfit! Chartreuse green, sweater vest, and headscarf. I love wearing them myself, too. My subjects are my biggest style inspiration. If I don’t know what to wear I just scroll my feed until I get an idea. It usually takes just a couple of minutes.
How did your work as a street style photographer lead you to start your app, Gem?
LJ: I’ve been thrifting and wearing vintage all my life, so it’s an important part of my life. I like to think that if there weren’t any second-hand, I would have no one to photograph because that’s the way you create unique outfits. So I feel like creating an app that helps people find vintage items also helps me in a way because then I can help people come up with more cool outfits.
WORDS Sara Radin
PHOTOGRAPHY Portrait of Liisa by Elina Simonen; all other imagery by Liisa Jokinen