Written and styled by Tracy James
Photography by Chuck St. John
“Twelve years of Catholic school can really wreak havoc on a girl,” says Jen Dent. When the John Carroll High School alum headed to college, she had worn a uniform her entire life. “Thankfully, back then, college girls were more into fraternity T-shirts than high fashion,” Dent remembers. “And there was no Instagram to capture it all.” Somewhere in her thirties, Dent (now in her forties) came into her own, and today her wardrobe consists of garments she describes as versatile basics that can be mixed with push-the-envelope items to create a look that is classic with a twist. Laughing at the mouthful of descriptors, Dent asks, “Is edgy classic a thing?” What is a thing, and a wise one at that, is Dent’s fashion philosophy: “I believe in getting dressed for the day, just like I believe in a handwritten note,” she says. “Admittedly it’s really for the happiness it gives me, not for other people.”
If Dent could open a boutique, its specialty would be goods with a dual purpose: like her scarf/necklace with delicate chain fringe, the floor mirror in her master bedroom that opens to reveal jewelry storage, the clutch that charges her iPhone, or the art sculpture atop the bathroom vanity that doubles as a display for long necklaces. In the same vein, Dent wants her wardrobe to accommodate anything from a soccer game with her kids to a black-tie event with her husband, Matthew, a Buffalo Rock executive. Sensing an idea for her imaginary boutique, Dent suggests that she needs to invent clothes that zip off or break away to reveal a whole new day-to-night outfit, without the hassle of changing.
Dent is not afraid to try a trend on for size, interpreting the latest and greatest in an age-appropriate way that makes sense for her lifestyle as a busy mom and wife. One such trend she has enjoyed is capes. “Perhaps I need to feel like a superhero to get everything done?” she jokes. Another favorite is rompers, which Dent has worn dressy, casual, and in between, both before and since they became trendy. Whether “in” or not, Dent states that she will continue to wear them as long as she can find them. That said, not all onesies are created equal, as Dent believes that even living on a farm is no excuse for overalls.
Another style pet peeve is capri pants. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, Dent finds that the abbreviated length visually cuts off her sihouette. (Style guru Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame takes the capri criticism one step further, stating in his style manual that “The baggy cargo capri is the single worst item of clothing in America today.”) Dent’s height does not, however, prevent her from wearing heels, and in fact, it is unusual to spot her in flats, unless headed to exercise. Lately her Sorel wedge boots have been a go-to, durable enough for her hectic life, but with enough height to maintain feminine flair. Her don’t-leave-the-house-without-
So where does Dent shop for her favorites? When Birmingham got an Anthropologie store at The Summit many years ago, Dent felt almost as happy as she did when Starbucks came to town. “Every time I walk in, it feels like the best blouse I’ll ever own could be hanging right around the corner. I love the mix of designers all under one roof.” Adding to the allure is Anthropologie’s resident personal stylist, Debra McCurry, who has become a dear friend. Dent compliments McCurry as “the picture of glamour, one that can only come from the inside.” Similarly, Dent admires the celeb style of Cate Blanchett, “who could not be more cool or comfortable in her own skin.”
But would Blanchett be brave enough to dress up as a candy corn? When Dent’s son became old enough to talk, she promised him she would dress up for Halloween as whatever he chose for her. Since the candy corn, her daughter came into the picture, so the costuming has become a family affair. Dent has been Charlotte the spider to her daughter’s Wilbur, and when her daughter and husband were Annie and Daddy Warbucks, Dent and her son countered with Olive Oyl and Popeye. As a family, they have been the casts of Harry Potter and The Incredibles. For a recent summer party, all donned incredibly realistic Art Deco era duds for a Great Gatsby theme. Dent’s creativity evident in the costume orchestration also shines when giving parties herself, especially for her children. Elaborating on these Pinterest-worthy affairs would require another article, but suffice it to say they are stylish in themselves. Her daughter’s Project Runway-themed seventh birthday party included the makings of the show right in their own garage, complete with shopping for fabric, design worktables for each guest, and of course, a runway. Tim Gunn himself would have given high marks.
Perhaps what is most refreshing about Dent’s attitude toward style is that fashion and all things stylish can and should be fun, creative, and an outlet to express one’s individuality.