Wednesday, August 18, 2010

80s and 90s Back to School Checklist: School Supply Trends

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.

Trapper Keepers

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.

Sanrio Erasers
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

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!’”

Pencil Cases

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.

Gel Pens
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?

Pencil Toppers
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.


Angela_Baker said...

Maybe I just have a dirty mind, but the picture of the troll pencil toppers made me giggle. :-P

Word on Lisa Frank. For Christmas one year my mom got me a deluxe LF stationary set with stamps and everything. It was so awesome I never even opened it.

Tahleen said...

Angela, I thought the same thing about the pencil toppers.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I had all of these!!!! I used to love my pencil case & my Lisa Frank accessories! I recently found one of my troll erasers! hehe. =)

Sada said...

I dreamed about Trapper Keepers last night. No lie.

p.s. And yes, I also noticed that the pencils seem to be penetrating those trolls in a not very PG way.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, I completely forgot about my troll pencil topper! There was no better mindless, time passing activity than forming his hair into to different styles, then waving it around, then forming it, then blowing in it... Good times! :)

Selah said...

Scented markers too! Oh my gosh, I remember that we had to have scented markers. lol.

Sadako said...

Holy crap, how did I not realize how dirty those trolls were as a kid? And it wasn't even like all the pervy kids had them. It was normal, pastel wearing, cute little girls. If I were a kid again, I think I'd be the freak who'd be all, "THE TROLLS! THE TROLLS ARE GETTING OFF!"

Karen said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for reminding me of Yikes pencils!! I loved those! (I'm not even ashamed to admit...I may have stolen one or two from others lol...)

Emily said...

I'm still a little bitter about the fact that I never got to have a Trapper Keeper. I always got stuck with ugly canvas 3 ring binders instead. I DID, however, have lots of Lisa Frank stuff and one of those potentially dirty troll pencil toppers.

(My word verification is ressitis, which sounds like some kind of disease...)

Ashleigh Rajala said...

Fact: I still have a Troll pencil topper. I still use it.

Jen said...

I still love going to Office Depot or Staples, mostly because it feels like school supply shopping!

I bought a peechee last time I was there. For no good reason except I was feeling nostalgic.

Heather Taylor said...

Jelly roll gel pens were my favorite! I had the sparkly ones and the "lightning" brand that looked very silvery.

Anonymous said...

I used to have one of those pink pencil cases and the troll pencils! It was really expensive but I thought it was awesome! Hehehe =)

Elizabeth said...

For some reason, Trapper Keepers were banned at my grade school - and I think maybe the whole school system. Every year on the list of school supplies, it would say "3 Ring Binder - NO TRAPPER KEEPERS" (yes, in all caps just like that). No idea why.

Anonymous said...

Lisa Frank was the bomb diggity.. I got everything Lisa Frank when I was in elementary school. You couldn't get it in Canada back then so I'd go to the states for it. I still have some of the notebooks and stuff. I loved the colors, they were awesome.

Lauren said...

My friends & I were all mad for the gel pens in middle school! I remember I had something like fifty of them, & I keep track of them all obsessively! Our school only allowed regular blue or black ink, so they were reserved for notes between friends. My best friend bought me a pad of special black paper for my birthday, & they looked so amazing on it! One of my very favorite memories <3

Allison said...

@ Elizabeth:
The same thing with me ! When I was in Elementary School, we weren't allowed to have trapper keepers. I got yelled at by my teacher for having one because i got one from my mom to use until we went school supply shopping.
I used to have Lisa Frank stuff and gel pens too! I still have a huge box full of gel pens and I still love the Lisa Frank stuff. It's so cute!

Lsg Industrial said...

Relate much on your list! Pencil cases are one of the trending school supplies in the 90's.
School Supplies Angeles City

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