Three Black Skirts: All You Need to Survive


Balance, Strength, Well-Being and a Killer Wardrobe








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Balance, Strength, Well-Being and a Killer Wardrobe









It's about solitude. It's about stain removal. It's about beauty, and what to do when feeling blue. It's about attitude and atomizers, stock funds and stockings that match. It's about life your life and how to get it together.

In a smart, funny, and refreshingly down to earth survival guide, Anna Johnson covers it all: health, dating money, career moves, style, sex, nutrition, responsibility, home dEcor, body image, friendship. And, of course, the indispensability of owning three black skirts one to seduce, one to succeed, one to slob out in. What else is there?

AUTHOR BIO: Anna Johnson has written for Elle, Vanity Fair, Vogue UK and Australia, Conde Nast Traveler, and Marie Claire Lifestyle. She's a correspondent for Foxtel's program By Design. Born in London, she currently divides her time between New York City and Sydney, Australia.

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Editorial Reviews

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Our Review

It's 7:15 on Friday night. You've just arrived home after working late, and your date is due to ring the doorbell in 15 minutes. After canvassing your closet and emptying out all your drawers, you discover you have absolutely nothing to wear and all of your stockings have runs in them. Plus, you need to feed the dog, you owe your best friend a phone call, and there's a credit card payment on your desk, waiting to be mailed. Ding dong.

Welcome to the world of the modern, independent woman on her seemingly never-ending quest to have it all. Between career goals, friends and family, financial obligations, and love interests, it can be a dizzying ride. But luckily, magazine writer Anna Johnson has come along to keep it all from spinning out of control with her sassy, useful book Three Black Skirts: All You Need to Survive.

Three Black Skirts isn't exactly a self-help book; Johnson doesn't claim to have all the answers. (She even admits early on that she doesn't have the recommended three black skirts -- only two.) Instead, this book functions more as a companion guide to your own life. Use it like a travel guidebook: Take it along to point you in the right direction but feel free to stray from its pages. Without being patronizing or overbearing, Johnson shares her thoughts on everything from money management (be wary of too much debt) to emotional management (make sure to carve out some time for yourself). Her tips on time management will help even those of us who are chaotically busy or hopelessly disorganized. She also helps to untangle those complicated interpersonal relationships with friends, mothers, bosses, and exes and, of course, she demonstrates just how to be calm, cool, and collected around the gentlemen, whether on a first date or a first wedding anniversary.

But Three Black Skirts isn't just for the Bridget Joneses among us; this book is relevant for women of all ages and lifestyles. Johnson offers sage advice for corporate ladder climbers, home buyers, world travelers, moms, and philanthropists with equal ease and assurance. In the chapters on personal style, she provides a changing set of fashion tips for women as they progress through the decades, from their 20s to their 50s. Although she does not claim these are hard and fast rules, Johnson's pointers would make a sensible foundation for any wardrobe. In fact, Johnson never claims that her suggestions are unbendable truths; she merely offers advice that the reader may or may not choose to take. After reading Three Black Skirts, however, you'll be prepared for virtually anything.

So what are you waiting for? Answer the door!

--Stephanie Bowe

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761119395
  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 798,468
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Anna Johnson started her career at nineteen as a journalist with Stiletto magazine. She writes for Vogue Australia, Vogue UK, Condé Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair, and Elle. Currently she's dividing her time between Sydney and New York.

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Read an Excerpt


Self-help books tell you how to live. I can't do that. I've got a diet built on raw watercress, strawberry ice cream, oolong tea, and Chinese noodle-bar soups of ambiguous stock. I don't own three black skirts, only two. I can't drive a car. By the time this book is published, I will buy an ironing board, stop using a blue straw beach bag as an attache case, and finally cut my credit card in two. Let me be the first to admit that we teach what we need to learn. I wrote this book not because I'm spiffingly together and pregnant with worldly wisdom, but because I want to be more relaxed, organized, and socially useful. Actually, I just want to get to yoga once a week and remember to floss.

The nagging feeling of always being a little behind becomes a life state. It's often the petty details that clog the wheels of your chariot: a broken sandal strap, an old debt you can't shift, a receipt you can't find the night before filing your taxes, the belief that you look hideous in jeans, or a forgotten birthday. Gradually little glitches start to sculpt your world and, more insidiously still, your delicate sense of self.

When your life is messy it's easy to feel that the hand of destiny is shuffling you to the back of the class, doomed to the dunce's corner with the pencil suckers and the self-tattooed delinquents. And the frenzied pace of the way we live does nothing to allay our own (perceived) inadequacies. How does any woman get ahead when the stakes are so high? Beating beneath the skin of our lives is an unwritten, but very blatant, timetable. It is a timetable for study, for work, for shopping, for saving and planning and love and babies and gym and e-mails and housework and loans and eye-wrinkle creams and relatives and divorce and patching up and affairs and vitamin supplements and car registration and Christmas dinners and all the damn rest. Given what's expected of us, life starts to feel like a succession of high jumps with new aspirations slapped down in front of us before we've cleared the first.

As a result, most of us are just coping, barely scraping by with enough time to commune with ourselves let alone make a deep connection with other people. No wonder we "forget" to have kids or learn a language or join an organization we admire; we also "forget" to take pride in small victories or take proper stock of our milestones or even just to breathe. Hopefully this book can help you regain a sense of balance and give you the strength and spark to repair and replenish the parts of your life that are so often overlooked-your spirit, your self-esteem, your secret life and hidden talents, your dreams, your financial independence, your creative soul.

Given a limited time frame and very limited experience in some areas (I'm not a mother, a runner, or much of a saver), I've done my best to address some basic life skills and employed several "experts" on the subjects I wasn't fit to tackle. My role models were girlfriends with guts. Kristyna, who would rather hand-cement a driveway than watch daytime TV. Emma, who taught herself how to replace a car engine, in heels. Kate, who drove across the United States alone (without a radio!). Karen, who commutes two hours a day to teach the kids of immigrant families. Tina, who sings her sons to sleep with a ukelele. Jessica, who donated the royalties from her bestseller to a charity she loves. Margaret, who thinks nothing of organizing major environmental rallies at age seventy plus. I'm moved by women who approach life with that rare mix of independent thought, constructive action, common sense, and madness.

The spirit that animates this outlook is more a matter of discipline than magic. It takes a lot of willpower to make changes to your life, to stick to a goal and be true to your ideals. Sometimes it even feels a little boring. I know, because I'm a lazy dreamer. This book was born, essentially, out of sloth. Inertia drove me to act. An inability to stick to a relaxation program, manage money, or even keep simple promises led to incredible frustration. To escape from the valley of the flakes I found simple answers to complex life problems. I stopped saying yes when I meant no, I tried to get up earlier, I established routines, and, even if I broke them, I attempted to make every day count-be it shifting debt or shaking my rump.

Living with a flaming sense of purpose doesn't apply to everything, of course. Hair, bosses, and love remain unpredictable. Especially love. Applying a five-year plan to relationships or trying to force romance like a bulb out of hard earth is a waste of precious energy. And there's so much misinformation out there when it comes to relationships. Most of it is thinly disguised propaganda urging women to be decorative, toe the line, and marry (rich). Most of it tells us to put our passion and sacred fire into looking happier, younger, and dumber than we are to attract the love who will make us whole. Sheesh! That's precisely the reason why marriage and weddings have been omitted from this book. I hate to burst the bubble, but the aim of getting order into your life isn't to snare a husband. The aim is to be fulfilled and focused, to be enough in your own right, and to learn when to get out of your own way in order to get on with it. If this book can rouse you to sew on a loose button, paint your kitchen violet, open a savings account, call up a long-lost friend, help start a community garden, or even just clean your room-I'll be happy.

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Table of Contents


BALANCE: The Whole Shebang (3)

BODY IMAGE: A Love Letter to Your Bottom (11)

NUTRITION: Soul Food (17)

SEX ENERGY: Diary of a Super-Sensualist (25)


CHIC: Untouchable Style (33)

THREE BLACK SKIRTS: Wardrobe Taming (43)

LOOKING DAMN FINE: Unsnooty Beauty (49)

D Office Survival (131)

HAVING IT ALL? A Mother of a Job (139)


MISERY: Twelve Shades of Blue (147)

JOY: Tickle Your Fancy (157)


COMMUNICATION: Can We Talk? (165)

FRIENDSHIP: Forget - Me - Nots (173)

DATING: Perfumed Anxiety (183)

LOVE: Myth vs. Reality (197)


SOLITUDE: The Wellspring (205)

SPIRITUAL LIFE: Light Your Fire (213)


ECO GIRL: Green Ideas (223)



INDEX (243)

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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
Punctuality, Ironing, and the Sacred Mystery of a Warm Salad: The Reasons Why I Wrote Three Black Skirts
I can completely understand the weird mix of astonishment, shock, and disbelief felt by new mothers when they are handed their child straight after giving birth. Like a newborn baby, my book is hot pink and kind of heavy, and like a mother I wonder how in heaven's name I managed to push it out.

Three Black Skirts is a survival guide. It's a book devoted to getting balance into your life, paying your bills, eating your vegetables, and getting to a gym class without griping. It's a book about punctuality and paint jobs and working your plumbing without blowing your fuse. It's a book full of cheery ideas about getting out of debt, getting into a good relationship, and buying a bikini without bursting into tears. I put in recipes that definitely work, pick-up lines that might, and lots of drawings of naked dancing girls with real thighs. My aim was to create a helpful, comforting, and inspiring handbook for women who are stretched -- for time, for money, for love, and for a basic wardrobe. Why on earth did I tackle such a tall order? Why did I cover my living room floor with charts on nutrition, books on high finance, and many, many stories about love? Well, the answer to that question is not that noble or lofty. I wrote this book for me. In essence it is a big fat reminder note designed to help me face every overdue phone bill, unwritten letter, and fraying hem in my realm. In a Three Black Skirts universe I know where my passport is, I have an outfit for work, lust, and sloth, and my taxes are filed. Energized and inspired, I go at my house with a nail gun and a bolt of silk, spring off the couch to do some slinky yoga moves, and hit work Monday morning with a smile. Tranquil and composed, I am no longer haunted by lousy body image, complex ex-boyfriends, or midnight calls from my mother. I like this world I've created. Now I'll spend a lifetime trying to make it so.

I like to laugh at how far the gap is between my ideal existence (healthy, perky, punctual, calm) and the chaos of reality, but writing my book actually brought me a few inches closer to the utopia of a balanced life. We teach what we need to learn. To bone up for Three Black Skirts I knelt before a bevy of very capable women. The kind of girlfriends who enjoy laying a cement driveway or taking three sons for surfing lessons at dawn. I'll never be like these women, but I can share their smarts. Infusing the spirit of my book are women like Kristyna, who replanted a small forest of native trees on ten acres in less than a year, or Jessica, who uses her success as an author to raise money to build playgrounds in war zones. Some of my role models are exceptional for their grit (to give birth after several miscarriages) and some just for their earthy good sense. Really good ideas are often very simple. Get up an hour early if you want a good long peaceful bath or a healthy walk. Turn off the TV three nights a week to rest your mind. Give an hour a month to a cause you love. Eat something green and something raw once a day. Giggle more.

The revelations of writing a survival guide definitely come from being forced to face your own own roadblocks. Writing this book combined confrontation with damage control. I'm not great with money, but I now know how to read a credit card balance sheet without blanching. I don't iron but can do so for emergencies, and as for a warm salad, the mystery is now solved. The parts of a warm salad that need warming are anything that tastes good grilled -- be it pine nuts or sweet potatoes diced small. Life pivots on shifting little glitches so we can get on with the whole shebang. I'm reminded of this every time someone asks me for the quintessential piece of survival advice. Straight up I'm tempted to be sober and clinically list the bare basics of good health. Your body needs all the sensible stuff -- brisk exercise, eight hours' sleep, plenty of water, solid food and sunlight -- but what of your soul? Well, your soul needs angora socks.

--Anna Johnson

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2006


    Anna Johnson cover's it all Food, Health, Men, Spirituality, Sex, Saving the World, Having Class and Being Unique all at the same time. I have read it many times. This is the best book I have ever read. I am waiting for her next book to come out. Sincerely, Dianna 23, mother of 1, yoga teacher

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2006

    Funny Lady!

    It has been ages since I've enjoyed a self-help book--Anna Johnson combines clever anecdotes with common sense. Each section is accompanied by line drawings so real, they literally jump off the page, delivering her message beautifully, encouraging you to devour each chapter. I have reread her book soooo many times and extracted a new tidbit each and every time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2004

    A Great Book!

    The best part about this book is how complete it is, I've never read anything like it! If you want to purchase a book about being a woman, this is what I reccomend!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2003

    I heart Anna

    The only reason I left off that fifth star is that as wonderful as this book is, Anna's columns for WomenCentral are even better, and after this book I just want MOREMOREMORE. Anna's is the only fashion advice that I have ever found to actually be helpful to a variety of real human women, unlike the suggestions and spreads in fashion mags that are completely 1.stupid ugly ridiculous and not appropriate for wearing to anything that ever happens on this planet and 2. totally expensive. I can't wait for her next book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2003

    Its all I need to survive!

    This is one of those books I wish I could have gotten in hardcover, because I have read it so many times it is definitely looking the worse for wear! I read it when I need to feel inspired, and when I need to hear that it is OK that I don't beleive what advertisers tell me and that I don't do what every one else does. This book manages to do the nearly-impossible job of targeting a large group while still feeling like it was written just for me. It will help keep me grounded in my own unique womanliness for decades to come... hmm, maybe I should get it laminated and spiral-bound! I don't want it falling apart on me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2003


    WOW! Being a teenager, I didn't realize life was like that even up to adult hood! This book really helped me see a bunch of stuff from a new perspective. It's great, and I recommend it for all ages. There's just one thing: No Boys Allowed!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2002

    It's a book that helps you enjoy and realize how awesome YOU are!

    This book was a great book to read that made me go have a shopping spree on myself. Whether I bought a blouse, shoes, or a manicure it was alone time with myself. After reading "Three Black Skirts" I felt inspired with how to take control of me!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2002

    I wanted to like it, really I did

    Based on reader reviews, I bought this book with the best of intentions and set aside a Friday night to linger over it. Alas, I was sorely disappointed. Perhaps this book is more conducive to a 20-something audience rather than a most definitely 30-something. I found myself very often commenting, 'Well, DUH!', since none of the content seemed refreshing or unique to me at all. I didn't laugh, I didn't cry, I didn't hug my dog or call my long-lost best friend. I see from the reviews that I'm in the minority, but this book just didn't do it for me, even though I purchased it with the highest of hopes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2002

    Nicely Done!

    What a great book! As I was reading ¿Three Black Skirts: All You Need to Survive¿, I laughed, agreed with some things, contemplated others, but most of all, I could not put it down. It made me focus on my needs and myself. This book has changed me forever. I have a better understanding of myself as a woman, a daughter, a friend, a sister, a mate and I celebrate being a woman. I highly recommend this book. For me, it is a reminder of simple things that I have forgotten, took for granted or simply did not know. For example, the simple pleasure of taking a bubble bath by candlelight, with a glass of champagne. ¿Yes! Go ahead, fill up that tub!¿ This book has really helped me to help myself, mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. It is a straightforward book with great ideas and packed with wisdom and told in a wonderful way. The ultimate message for me was to love myself and enjoy the gift of life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2002

    How can you live without it?

    No woman should go without this book! It's a survival guide that I can't put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2002

    rave review

    just reading the excerpt shook me out of my doldrums, a good read and great buy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2001

    Girls guide to EVERYTHING

    I love this book, I bought it on a whim while feeling blue about a year ago and it has lived on my nightstand ever since. This book helps with everything, it tells you how to paint your room, how to fix the toilet, how to cook a great meal, and how to dress like a goodess and feel good in your own skin. I love this book. it's also laid out very well. flowery fonts, and bold pink print make it a very easy read. buy if for your favorite friend. And get one for yourself, you deserve it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2001

    Great advice

    Excellent advice on jobs and career, money, clothing, beauty, nutrition, political and environmental advice. Its excellent in those categories. However the books fails in the sex, and dating sections, mainly because I don't agree with them. The spiritual section and mood section is a joke; the author's idea of spiritual is meditating and yoga, not God. However if you are willing to ignore those poor chapters, it would be an amazing book to get overall, because of the great advice that it offers, especially for those that are in their 20s.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2001

    This is me!

    I picked up this book idly around the holidays, read one page in the bookshop and just had to buy it! I couldn't believe how spot on it was and I had to convince myself that I hadn't written it, but it's the book I would've written if I knew all of this stuff. (I'm getting there, fear not!) Then I saw that the author is an Aussie who divides her time between New York and Sydney - which is just about the same as me! No wonder I can relate to this woman! I'm now buying copies to give to my sisters and closest friends - not that they really need guidance as such (no more than we all do) but because they'll get as much of a kick out of it as I do. It's the kind of book that you can keep going back to and finding something new or something you'd forgotten and it makes you smile all over again. Especially the 'dancing naked in Ugg boots..' Good on yer, Anna! And thanks!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2000

    A sweet and smart book for clever girls

    Finally, a book that looks nice on your night table and offers useful information. Most self-help books either pound the reader to submission with tough love, or slobber all over them like a smitten golden retriever. This book is like a cool older sister: she shows you the ropes, compliments you when you succeed, and holds you up when you fail. And she looks great doing it all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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