Wardrobe Portraits, is a series of photographs featuring garments from my personal collection. I have just started the process of documentation, but expect to have a few hundred, possibly up to a thousand images when the project is complete. It will serve the purpose of acting like a virtual costume museum, featuring mostly vintage American floral dresses and antique, embellished clothing collected from other countries. This growing collection is currently made accessible through an Instagram account under the name: nikabilt. The same photos can also be found on Pinterest under the same name: nikabilt.
Clothing for me is a visual language that has always been my preferred form of communication. My perceptions of people and cultures are read through clothing, and my daily expressions are what outfit me. This obsession with clothing goes as far back as I or others can remember.
There was a story related to me from a babysitter that I had at the age of four. At the time she thought it would be a fun summer job to babysit two young girls (my sister and I) for the simple reason that she would get to pick out our clothes and dress us. She was disappointed to discover that I was in complete control of both my wardrobe as well as my younger sisters’, and that it was me who arranged our outfits everyday. She said I was very particular with my layering techniques and combinations of colors and patterns. It was recounted that I used to wear numerous skirts and pairs of socks, and that each layer was slightly longer or higher than the previous so as to expose each one to create my desired look.
Throughout Middle School and High School, I remember that what I looked forward to the most each day was the idea that I could create and wear a new outfit. Classmates would comment that they had never seen me wear the same outfit twice, and could that be so? Emphatically, I would respond with a “Yes”, no outfits twice! In my mind, I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever wear the same outfit twice!
I grew up in second-hand clothing which I think turned clothing into a creative force for me. In other words, I couldn’t just go out and buy the trendy look of the moment like my peers (not that I ever think I wanted to). Instead, I had to create my own look from different combinations of what was given to us from other families or what we were able to find on the cheap. At one point during my youth I can remember counting that I had around 50 different skirts, and by the time I was in my early twenties I counted around 300 dresses. From overexposure to the world of second hand clothing I developed a love for vintage during my tween years which remains with me to this day.
When I was fourteen I presented a Humanities report on clothing from the 1950’s. I made large diagrams of the different kinds of garments and outfits that were popular. In these diagrams I labeled the dresses as “shmattas”, which unbeknownst to me was Yiddish for – rag. Sometimes when you think you are so smart, you aren’t! My “fancy” word that I had never heard anyone use before (except my father when he referred to my vintage dresses) turned out to be not as sophisticated and intellectually forward as I had assumed. Since my father had grown up in the 50’s I figured that his reference to what I only knew as “vintage” must be the proper name. When I presented my report, I felt like a botanist using the formal Latin name, placing myself one rung above everyone else with my expertise and knowledge of shmattas.
Today, as a contemporary textile artist working from second-hand material sources, I have comfortably owned the word and coined the term: shmatta prowess.