It’s that time of year again. You know the one: the time for back-to-school shopping and all the fresh-smelling new school supplies your child-sized heart can fathom. It’s tough as adults to deny the covetousness we feel when passing the mid-to-late August back-to-school displays at Target or OfficeMax. Even former low-performing students with an aversion to all things academic feel the allure of freshly sharpened pencils and shiny new folders; they symbolize an anticipation for a year that’s tough to match as a grown-up as the seasons blend together in ubiquitous office life.
Though we can’t go back to those simpler times in which colorful erasers could denote immeasurable promise and potential, we can at least reminisce about the items that gave us that rush of August or September excitement. I even give you full license to stop at that school supply display next time you’re out shopping and buy a 45 cent puppy folder or two--it’s a small price to pay to recapture the delight of back-to-school items like these.
No back-to-school supply list would be complete without a big binder to hold it all together, and no binder proved more popular in the 80s and 90s than the Trapper Keeper. With its flashy licensed designs and velcro closure, it served as the perfect all-purpose paper holder for school-age children.
Lisa Frank Folders
We’ve talked about Lisa Frank merchandise a lot here at Children of the 90s, and with good reason: it was everywhere. You couldn’t open a girl’s backpack in the mid-90s without finding a store inventory-level variety of Lisa Frank paraphernalia. Most little girls have a natural inclination toward loving colorful kittens playfully canoodling with high top sneakers or bunny rabbits laced tightly into ballet slippers. Lisa Frank simply played into this scientifically proven fact with major financial results.
All kids need to clean up after their mistakes, so what better way to do so than with an eraser printed with the whimsical Japanese Sanrio characters? Whether you were a Kerroppi fan or a Batz Maru fiend, these collectable erasers usually found their way into your pencil box.
Yikes! Pencils were all the rage in the early-to-mid 90s. As the above commercial suggests, Yikes are the only pencils as unique as you. Even though everyone else had them. Aside from that minor detail, the commercial tagline says it all: “They write like other pencils, but they make you go, ‘Yikes!’”
Of course, you had to store all of these supplies somewhere: your cubby wasn’t going to organize itself. Selection of the perfect pencil case was always a good way to kick off a new year. It was important to set the tone with a colorful translucent plastic case textured with bumps or perhaps the more sensible opaque case bearing a picture of--you guessed it--pencils. There’s something to be said for taking things literally.
Following the release of gel pens, it seemed all art supply and office stores immediately had the best colors placed on backorder. The reason? Young children purchased these writing utensils nearly as quickly as they were shelved. With fun metallic or signature “milky” colors, gel pens were a fairly certain way to render your eventual yearbook inscriptions both sparkly and indecipherable.
Lunchables aren’t exactly a school supply per se, but they were a staple for earning some serious cafeteria clout. Parents concerned with nutrition and possessing general anti-junk food attitudes weren’t likely to be found of these lab-generated Oscar Meyer concoctions, but parents short on time seeking convenience surely appreciated their simplicity. They may not have borne especial resemblance to real food, but they were fun to assemble and devour. Plus, the fancier versions came complete with fun size candy bar and Capri Sun juice box. What more could you have asked for?
For those of us who couldn’t decide between toys and school supplies, pencil toppers provided us an excellent middle ground. Teachers undoubtedly despised these unnecessary distractions for their complete lack of functionality, but kids adored the notion of their pencils wearing a little Troll doll hat. Adorable.