Among the people in Gators T-shirts, jerseys and frat tanks in the Swamp on football Saturdays, a few girls stand out from the crowd looking perfect in their gameday dresses — thanks to Jacquelyn Brooks.
Brooks, a Gainesville fashion designer, will be showing her creations as part of a Gainesville Fashion Week runway show on Saturday, April 14, at Villa East, located at 301 N. Main St. Her show will feature ready-to-wear pieces as well as formal wear.
Brooks got her start in design by sewing clothes for herself in her early teens. She then pursued fashion in college, attending Florida State University to major in apparel design and technology.
After graduating from FSU, Brooks moved home to Gainesville to open her business, Jacquelyn Brooks Designs, on University Avenue in Midtown, where she does both custom designs and tailoring and sews everything herself.
“My family was here when I got out of school,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t think that I would be staying in Gainesville, but it kind of just ended up that way.”
With a location within walking distance from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Brooks designs a line of gameday dresses that come in diverse cuts while still staying true to orange and blue for Gator girls.
“I have some styles that are geared toward college students, and I have some that are geared toward professionals. It just really depends on the design because you know what one group likes, another group would like something else,” she said. “I kind of just design what I like and go from there. I don’t like to wear T-shirts to a game, and you kind of want to stand out in a crowd of 80,000, so a lot of girls really like to wear the dresses.”
Brooks doesn’t just design with the style of dress that her clients might like in mind. She also takes into consideration the weather in the Swamp.
“I’ve designed a line so far that’s good to wear in hot weather,” she said. “Most of it’s knit, so it’s movable with the body. It stretches so you don’t feel constricted, and it’s breathable so you’re not dying in a 100-degree stadium, but it’s still cute.”
She hopes to take her gameday line nationally, creating different designs based on regions due to climate differences in different states, including long sleeves and maxi-dresses for northern schools, and maybe even branching out into separates.
“I think that’s the direction I’m going to go, and I can kind of launch that and take that to manufacturing doing gameday colors for every different school and have that as a base business while I expand on the stuff I really love to do, which is the couture line,” she said.
She describes her design style as “feminine, classy but slightly trendy as well,” and prefers doing custom designs for her clients. Last year, she designed a custom blue taffeta wedding dress that the customer, and Brooks, loved.
“It was gorgeous, and basically she just gave me an inspiration — a picture to start from — and just let me run with it. She just loved everything I did, so that was great because she allowed me to be creative and (I) wasn’t stuck with a certain design,” Brooks said. “I really prefer if customers don’t come to me like, ‘Hey, can you copy this dress?,’ because for me that’s not designing; that’s just reproducing something somebody’s already made.”
Brooks is not just a designer, but also a philanthropist who founded the Runways and Rescues fashion show last year benefiting Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue. This year’s event will take place on May 18 at the Haile Plantation Golf and Country Club.
To Brooks, the defining moment in her career has not been just one event, but a culmination of all the little things along the way.
“Last year, I got calls from ‘Fashion Star’ and ‘Project Runway,’ so those were two really amazing things that happened,” she said.
“And then, you know, the charity fashion show, and it was my first year at Gainesville Fashion Week, so I think all those little things kind of just keep the motivation going.”
Visit Gainesville local Jacquelyn Brooks at her shop, Jacquelyn Brooks Designs, located in Midtown.