I Want to Dress Like Tonne Goodman

The former Vogue fashion director's memoir, "Point of View: Four Decades of Fashion" recounts her years with, as she says, "Mrs. Vreeland, Grace, Anna," as well as models, photographers, designers.

The launch reinforces Tonne Goodman's strict style uniform: white straight-leg jeans (or sometimes black), a turtleneck or other simple, solid neutral top, a classic reefer or blazer. Tonne Goodman never, ever wears a "pop of colour" garment when seated in the front row—or anywhere. The effect is calm, cool and connected.

All this costs a fortune, you would think. Yes and no. She  wears $24 glasses frames. The jeans are the pricey J Brand, but she has also worn J. Crew and spent decades in Levis 501s.

White jeans, she says, are better than blue because they dress up more suavely. She says, "You know, a white jean isn't a blue jean. It has a whole different look to it. You can put it with anything and it adapts..."

Sidebar: While looking at many Goodman-in-white-jeans photos, I found a blog by Meaghan Smith, a Melbourne stylist, called Style at Any Age, with a post about wearing white jeans in winter. This is her 75-year-old mother in white jeans. It's not necessary to be a superthin fashion editor to wear them wonderfully:

Meaghan Smith's mum, on Style At Any Age

Goodman re-ups every few months; her white is white. On top: black, white, camel. She says she keeps her clothes a very long time, sticking with classic shapes.

Scarves are quiet, like mid-blue and deep red Charvet foulard prints; bags supple and un-logoed. She claims she "does not understand" jewellery, but wears a watch and thin bracelet. Her austerity extends beyond clothes; she wears no makeup.

You can find women known for an even more limited palette of one colour: the artist Sara Berman, who in her later years wore only tones of white; the writer Deborah Eisenberg, always in black.

Goodman's austerity may also be linked to her occupation. There is also a pronounced tendency among photographers, fashion editors, designers—who who must assess thousands of images and products—to avoid colour and pattern on themselves to reduce visual distraction.

And here's an account by the journalist Katherine Jose, who adopted black-and-white; she mentions "simplicity" but also "control".

It took decades to dip my toes into this disciplined aesthetic. During my magpie teens and twenties, I wore patterns from tattersall to teacups; wild florals; more tartan than the Highland Games.

In my thirties, I added quiet suits for the office, Mom clothes for home, but kept buying things like a jacket made from antique quilts, an Afghan dress. It took a good twenty-five years of scattershot shopping before I discovered the "Simple Isn't Easy" philosophy, and still I waver.

Women like Tonne Goodman present one coherent persona. She says she spends her at-home days with her children in exactly the clothes she wears to work. Packing is a breeze, and she never has a 'what to wear' crisis. But one has to commit to the path. Some days, I would choose a case of shingles over an all-black outfit, and on others it's my favourite thing ever. When I travel, I go full Goodman.

Photo: Vogue 2007, "Fold Everything"

And where are you now? A test: Your neighbour drops over wearing a fabulously-flowered piece like Carolina Herrera's print silk organza shirtDo you think, "Oh! Maybe I'll look for something like that!"?

Or is your response that of a Clothing Vegan: it may be delicious on her, but you are not having any, thanks very much.

  To paraphrase St. Augustine: "Lord, make me minimalist, but not yet."


Laura J said…
Enjoyed this! Oh for such focus single mindedness and discipline!!
Gretchen said…
Ms Goodman has been my style icon for ages, although I prefer adding grey, navy, and light blue to the strict color scheme. Patterns are terrific in my home decor, but stress me out in clothing (save for stripes in navy and white). But jewelry and particularly pearls and an arm of bracelets is what brings me joy. Between Goodman and Linda Wright I have all my style guidance to model, on a significantly lower price point than theirs.
I covet that aesthetic, but do confess to liking colourful scarves and some tops and jeans in deep, rich colours. I do generally prefer plain clothing, especially when travelling. Livia has thoroughly managed the all-black aesthetic, but she does have those startling green eyes. And condemns me to no white trousers, as even using the clothes brush, there is always some black fur or dander. I am wearing red shoes. These: https://www.drmartens.com/ca/p/womens-shoes-woven-textile-fine-canvas-winona
Vildy said…
This has been very helpful to me in understanding why I always envision wearing outfits with white jeans but never do. Though I'm 70, I always like to include some sensuality in how I dress, something tactile or delicious looking. I want to suggest yielding or better yet enveloping. :D It's the exact opposite of my nature. I'm very brisk and efficient, forceful. I've been told, "You look sooo gentle but you're Bold!" or "You look so very calm...." I don't like to give the game away. Crisp, tough white jeans would leave me naked personality-wise. :d
Hi, follow the link to Meaghans blog and find yet another link for the correct photo of her mother wearing white jeans😉👍 Dorthe Svane
Duchesse said…
Vildy: White jeans need not look tough any more than black jeans, and you're the best judge of what you want to convey. You raise an interesting point about how 'soft' a woman wants to look. The more drape and flow, the softer the effect. It't fun to watch "Grace and Frankie" to see the costuming of the two main characters: crispness in Jane Fonda's versus the softness in Lily Tomlin's. Both are caricatural, chosen to support the personalities of the characters they play.

I wish they costumed Lily better instead of dressing her in dippy batik and horrible jewellery but I see what they're doing.
Duchesse said…
Dorthesvan61: Thank you! I did better, changed the photo and linked to the blog as well as the post on wearing white jeans,

lagatta: I nearly always take dark bottoms when travelling unless I have a washing machine.
Susan B said…
I'm very much leaning back into a minimalist aesthetic. It's one I always look at on others and sigh, "yes, this." I've decided to quit fighting it. BTW, TG was my inspiration to hunt down some perfect white jeans (straight leg, not skinny). I still love my blue jeans, but I agree with her that white jeans dress up nicely. I'm even considering packing them for our upcoming trip to France and the UK!
Duchesse said…
Susan B: The only way I will travel with white jeans (or skirt) is if I have a washer and dryer where I'm staying. I can't stand worrying about what I sit on or brush up against, and there is always a blueberry with my name on it. When people like Goodman or De la Fressange say they travel with white jeans I always think they must be in hotels with excellent housekeeping service.
Susan B said…
Yes, I'm probably being *far* too optimistic! ;-) I just remember seeing what seemed like *everyone* in white jeans in London a couple of summers ago, and wishing I had a pair. Of course, they were all probably going home to washing machines...
Martina said…
I would definitely be looking (for a cheaper version) of the Herrera blouse. Interesting that you picked that for an example, since she’s known for her uniform. I agree that people who deal with design desicions all day tend to adopt a uniform (even Anna Wintour with her flowered dresses and signature necklaces). I have to keep myself from buying black and white everything, since I know I like those colors,but I also know I don’t want to wear them exclusively. Great post!
Hummingbird5 said…
I'm pretty minimalist, but black is my color. Not because it's "easy" or requires no thought, but because I truly love it, and it works with my complexion and (gray) hair. I love a uniform of black. Textures and layers and accessories are highlighted and beautiful. Also, at 5'1", I'm never overpowered by black, as I am by many other colors and/or patterns, and I don't risk looking "cute" (a problem for us wee-of-stature women). So I think I agree with Ms. Goodman for the most part, just switching out the white. I enjoyed this post and am also enjoying the comments!
Duchesse said…
Susan B: Laundrette? If you want them, you can do it but there is only so much one can ask of a Tide Stick.

Matrina: The quality of the fabric makes that blouse. After seeing seas of florals everywhere, I notice few really beautiful florals and usually a direct relationship to proce. (And that one is too expensive for me, too!) So if you see a very nice floral at a decent price, grab it now.

Hummingbird: I agree "cute" can be too quickly attached to petite women... and also elder women. Ms Goodman also wears all black, or black and camel. She says she wants her clothes to "last an eternity".
Duchesse said…
Martina: Sorry for the misspelling of your name.
Martina said…
Haha...can’t tell you how many times I’ve typed “Martian”. Agree about beautiful floral prints, they make me happy, which is important!
Leslie M said…
This is an interesting discussion. I was running late for work today, but I sneaked a quick peek at your post as I was prepping for the day. It was enough to convince me to change into black jeans and black and white blouse. I was happy with the choice. My closet has always included lots of black and white. Goes with everything and mostly looks “sharp”. White cotton blouses are so comfy and look wonderful, until you sit, throw a purse on your shoulder, put on a seat belt or miss your mouth with a cup of hot coffee. But, I’ve always suspected I need more color, more prints, more something. It’s not really true, and especially now that women over 60 are invisible. It’s time, I guess, to embrace my new reality. I’m not complaining - there is a lot of freedom in invisibility. Though, I wish I had that one special quality that stood out and distinguished me from other 60 year old women; either distinct wardrobe style, hats, bright red lipstick, fabulous pearls. Please don’t let me be remembered as “that woman who always had a stain on her shirt”. And, yes, a tide stick can do a heck of a lot of heavy lifting. It has never let me down. I travel with 2 in my suitcase and 1 in my purse.
twelve said…
Haha, dear Duchesse! A delight to read!
So me: "During my magpie teens and twenties, I wore patterns from tattersall to teacups; wild florals; more tartan than the Highland Games.
In my thirties, I added quiet suits for the office, Mom clothes for home, but kept buying things like a jacket made from antique quilts, an Afghan dress. It took a good twenty-five years of scattershot shopping before I discovered the "Simple Isn't Easy" philosophy, and still I waver."
Oh yes, we aim but sometimes, our hearts veer elsewhere, and we wouldn't have it any other way!
diverchic said…
White jeans are a good idea with the laundry caveat but please don't dress like Tonne Goodman. You are much too juicy. She looks dried up and ugly. She looks scary to me whereas you look like a rich source of love and pleasure.
Duchesse said…
Leslie M: I am flattered that you peeked before work! The whole issue of invisibility is another matter, one that reads to me as ego-driven, but that's another post. I don'tt feel invisible to those who count (including myself) and the rest of the world, who cares?

twelve: Sonetimes when I can't fall asleep, I count not sheep but old outfits. And I am both amused and appalled at some of that. As an old friend said, "You always had the lates thing even if it was gawdawful". The early '80s were especially rich with examples.

diverchic: Now, S. It is true she does not grin when the camera is turned on her, but hers is a different aesthetic.
Sandra Sallin said…
OK, you have convinced me to buy a pair of white jeans. They do look fabulous. If you looked in my closet you would see mostly black and white. I like the look with my grey hair. Didn't know I was at some fore front. But now I must include the jeans. I also would love to read the book. Delightful blog post.

Just lately I was bemoning the fact that I was buying mostly white outfits. Maybe I'm just fine.
Duchesse said…
Sandra Salin: Oh, I would love to create a wall mirror with your worlds emblazoned across the top: "Maybe I'm just fine!"
Jean Shaw said…
Don't forget that other style icon who loved black and white: Georgia O'Keefe!

It's interesting that this post comes close behind your appreciation of Bill Cunningham's simple work jacket. Perhaps you are craving simplicity?
Duchesse said…
Jean Shaw: Yes! Thank you for remembering her. Such distinct style, both as an artist and woman.

If you search for the label "I Want to Dress Like", you will see your observation holds beyond Cunningham: Jane Birkin is my Spirit Animal. The Queen, Arnold Palmer, Robert Mueller. All knew early on what worked and stuck with it.

For the ast twenty-odd years I have been interested in simple, well-cut clothes though can admire a riot of pattern and detail on others. I've always loved the clean designers like Claire McCardell, Beene, the early Calvin Klein.

But, I also am captivated by costume and that's why I once bought vivid, even wild stuff. But I had way too much and the maintenance on an 'everything' wardrobe is a great deal of work.
While I'm not a prominent fashion editor or designer, I find that I spend so much time looking at garments and accessories while writing my blog that, when it's time for me to get dressed, all I want is black and white. It's a matter of keeping myself sane, as much as anything! I admire beautiful colors on other people, but I need to stay simple and as neutral as possible, in my wardrobe!

The posts with the most