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12 Hot ’80s and ’90s School Supplies We'd Still Love to Take Back to School

I bet school-supply shopping’s a whole lot less complicated these days, thanks to multitasking accessories like iPhones and netbooks. But when I was a kid, pens and binders were bona fide status symbols, just as important to your cool quotient as light-up shoes and mini-backpacks. Pity the youth of yesteryear who didn’t sport these school supplies.

Trapper Keeper Binder

1 / 12

Remember the Trapper Keepers with Velcro closures that were obnoxiously loud and obtrusive? Those were the best! Any kind worked, but the most popular styles had bold colors and fun images, like neon unicorns.

Anything Lisa Frank

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If you were a girl coming of age in the late ’80s to early ’90s, you likely lived for Lisa Frank and her rainbow-colored dolphins and shooting stars, whether they were on notebooks, folders, or stickers.

Anything Ninja Turtle

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Guys of the ’80s and ’90s opted for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gear (though girls loved the cartoon and the movies just as much). The coolest dudes in my school showed their turtle power with this half-shell backpack.

Plastic Lunch Boxes

4 / 12

From She-Ra to He-Man to Pee-Wee, kids displayed their favorite celebrities on their lunch boxes, preferably with matching thermoses that would invariably get lost after the first few weeks of school.

Troll Pencil Toppers

5 / 12

In retrospect, it seems pretty disturbing to stick pencils up a troll’s you-know-what just so you’d have something to play with when you were bored in class, but these were all the rage back in the day. A tier or two lower on the accessories hierarchy were colored eraser tops, though I still don’t get the purpose of replacing one eraser with another.

Pee-Chee Folders

6 / 12

These folders were in style well before the ’80s; Pee-Chee enthusiasts insist that they’re harder to come by these days. You can still find them in all their nostalgic sports-design glory online, though.

Gelly Roll Pens

7 / 12

Teachers frowned upon using Gelly Roll pens on tests or handouts, but they were highly necessary to make the notes you passed to friends behind the teachers’ backs much prettier. Plus, if you couldn’t get a Trapper Keeper, these pens turned plain, cheap binders into works of art.

Pencil Boxes

8 / 12

You need a place to stash all those Gelly Rolls, right? The best pencil boxes were the ones with tiny secret compartments where you could hide folded notes and pieces of Bubble Yum. Bonus points if your box was designed by Sanrio.

Watches with Built-in Calculators

9 / 12

My friend claims calculator watches are making an ironic comeback among hipsters, but I think they hit their peak around 1995. Back then, before cell phones became mainstream, you couldn’t argue with that kind of convenience.

Colorful Erasers

10 / 12

The coolest erasers smelled like cherries (well, cherries and rubber) or had funky shapes, but the zanily colored ones garnered a similar amount of respect from your peers, too.

Mr. Sketch Pens

11 / 12

Write with these pens, and you’re treated to a dizzying array of fruity and earthy scents, depending on the colors you choose. They smelled so good that it was fairly common for kids to simply sit there and sniff their ends. (I was partial to orange, myself.) Good thing they’re nontoxic!


12 / 12

You definitely didn’t want to get caught with these in the classroom, lest some menacing teacher confiscate them for the rest of the school year. But these were the must-have recess supply, at least in the early ’90s. I believe Pokémon cards replaced them in later years.

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