Meet Debra Bartgis

Location: Sparks, NV
Age: 57
Marital Status: Not married but has been with her significant other for 25 years
Education: Court reporting degree from Academy of Stenographic Arts in San Francisco

“What’s old is gold,” couldn’t ring more true for Debra Bartgis, a court reporter from Nevada. Sixteen years ago when her long-time significant other, Rick, began restoring a vintage car, she wanted in on the fun. She started wearing head-to-toe vintage, from Dior suits and big-picture hats to Lilli Ann jackets with “huge shoulder pads” from the 1950s. “I match my handbags to my shoes to my hat,” says Deb.

While Deb worships all things old, she is adamant on staying age-appropriate. “I don’t want to be an aging lady trying to look like a young girl. I want to be timeless and fun.”

But just last year, Deb found the real secret to staying youthful (and it had nothing to do with fashion). At age 56, she became a mom for the first time, when she took in her 9-year-old great niece. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done; making room for her in our lives when we were set to start retirement. But I wouldn’t go back and change it. We’ve become a family.”

What do you do?

I have been a court reporter for 36 years. I do public utility hearings. I’m pretty much the one everyone calls on to do these types of hearings since there aren’t many with this niche in Nevada.

How did you get into that?

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. At 18, I went to court reporting school in San Francisco and when I graduated, at age 20, I got a job with a firm in Nevada. I stayed with them for ten years. Then my stepfather—also a reporter—and I formed a firm, Silver State Court Reporters. Approximately nine years ago I bought him out and he still works for me at age 73.

Are you the only one who does the court reporting or do you have other people?

I am the only one in my office full time, but I have three other reporters that I can call on when I need them. The commission tends to schedule around me.

Are you married?

I was married at 20 to my high school sweetheart, divorced at 27, no children. I have been with my significant other, Rick, for 25 years. We didn’t have children, but 15 months ago, I became the guardian of my great-niece, Camille. He parents are not fit to take care of her.

That must have been a difficult decision.

Her father has been in and out of jail, and none of the other relatives would take her. They were going to put her into a foster home, but Rick and I wouldn’t let that be an option.

So, you were 56 and you had a nine-year-old child come live with you?

Right. And she was a wreck. She couldn’t eat with utensils. She was two grades behind in school. She was abandoned, feeling very insecure and had anger management problems. I’m happy to report that she is getting As in her behavior classes at school now, and she has made great strides.

What a lucky kid she is now.

I’ve never had to take care of anyone but myself and now had to give my entire heart and soul to my child. It’s been a life-changing event, and if I ever wondered why I got to slide through the first half of my life, now I know.

How does Rick feel about all of this?

He has been the best role model for her. The men in her life bounced in and out until now. I think Rick, opening his heart and his home, has been the best thing for her.

Is Rick your age?

He is actually six and a half years younger. He just turned 50. We have been together since he was 25 and I was 32.

Does he work?

He works at the Nevada Supreme Court as the IT manager.

Is your mother still alive?

Yes. We work together and live near each other. We even share a backyard. Because she works for me, I can flex her hours. If I have to leave for a job too early or come home past Camille’s school hours, my mother helps out. Thank God for her.

It sounds like you have a great support system you can call on between your mom and Rick.

Yes and we have a wonderful neighborhood too. For years, we were the only ones without children. Now we have a child and everyone has welcomed her with open arms. Sometimes we have a house full of kids, and I say to Rick, ‘What happened to our life?’ But we’ve become a family and failure is not an option with her.

Tell me how you became interested in vintage?

Sixteen years ago, Rick decided to restore a vintage car. Most women I talked to hated their husband’s vintage car hobby and thought the car shows were boring. To make it fun, I started dressing up. I even had dolls made up with outfits that matched mine that I would set on the console of the car.

Where do you buy your vintage clothes?

I love Couture Allure. I’ve always looked for really unique sellers of vintage clothing. I met Jody on eBay seven or eight years ago. She’s very discriminating, her clothes are unique and she’s an extremely helpful seller. She will give you her opinion if she doesn’t think something is right for you.

What era in fashion do you like best?

My favorite is the Dior years, 1947 to 1957. It’s the Grace Kelly look, with the tight bodices and very full skirts. I don’t like short things. Now that I’m older, I like elegant, tea length dresses or skirts, big picture hats, gloves and dark sunglasses.

What’s your signature style?

I like St. John knits the best for work, they’re the most comfortable. I don’t wear St. John’s vintage, but I think a lot of St. John knits have a vintage look to them. I often accessorize with vintage jewelry, hats or shoes. No one ever knows what I’m gonna show up in.

What suit designers do you like?

I have one or two Dior, but Lilli Ann is my favorite. They’re supposedly the sexiest suits in the world. The ones I have are from the ’50s and late ’40s. They have huge shoulder pads.

Who is your style icon?

Audrey Hepburn. She had such classy elegance.

Has your style changed over the years?

What I started wearing 15 years ago, isn’t what I would wear now. I was wearing more of the Marilyn Monroe look at first such as halter-tops. I still wear that in the summer, but I think I’ve graduated to a more elegant look. I have a lot of rules now: I don’t wear bows on my butt, I don’t wear frills, and I don’t wear lace.

Do you have any big indulgence?

High, high heeled shoes. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t walking in heels. Even when I’m in Disney World I wear them. My favorite is red, patent leather Stuart Weitzman high-heeled shoes.

Do you like antiques too or just vintage fashion?

I love antiques. My kitchen is completely red and white in 1950s style. The living room is 1940s with a baby grand piano.

Do you have a signature perfume?

Giorgio. Rick bought it for me for Christmas one year and everyone loves the smell of it on me. I can no longer smell it. I only use a little bit.

What’s your skin care routine?

I use products by SeneGence. The owner of the company had a booth at a car show about five years ago and I discovered it there. I love their products. I love their lipsticks and their makeup and I use their moisturizer.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Nevada?

My favorite restaurant is in Reno. It’s called Roxy Bistro in the El Dorado Casino. It is absolutely beautiful, with big fountains, excellent gourmet food and great service.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned in your career?

Honesty and integrity above all else. My clients know they can count on me; they know I work for all sides. They just talk in front of me freely; they tell their secrets about their home life and their work but I have to be honest, I will not share any of that. My word is my bond.

What do you do to rejuvenate?

For short term rejuvenation, I love to go out in my backyard. I feed the birds and I sit in the sun and read. For long term rejuvenation, I go to Maui. I’ve been ten times, it never fails to heal me completely. I stay at the the Kaanapali Alii, which is a condo resort right on the beach. I love it there.

What’s a great book you’ve read?

Gone With the Wind. I think the reason I love it is because it’s all about strong women. That was something that I decided when I was a child, that I never wanted to rely on a man. I knew that I wanted a man and a family, but I wanted to be able to take care of myself.

The most important thing you’ve learned about money?

Be financially independent. One of the reasons Rick and I never married is because I had a business, I owned homes, I had a separate life and though we’ve melded together in 25 years, I still am financially independent. We have joint accounts but even if he wants to buy me a Diet Coke, I’m like no, I’ll buy it, and he laughs. You never can predict what will happen in your life. I would hate to give up my independence. Rick is an incredibly special man. I probably should have married him, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t be Mrs. Somebody; it just didn’t work for me.

Who or what inspires you?

I had several really good mentors as I stumbled through life. One is my 94-year-old aunt. I’m amazed by her resilience and all the pain she’s suffered in her life, yet she still has a great attitude. She buried a husband more than 40 years ago and two of her children and lives alone. She’s the sweetest woman in the world. Through my lifetime, when I had difficult times, I could always call her. I called her my rock. She tethered me, and I strive to do that for Camille.

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