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Retro School Supplies Made Modern (with Old-School Commercials!)

By michellehorton |

Yesterday when I was writing about the coolest erasers, I was reminded of the long-forgotten trend of Yikes! pencils and erasers. The neon colors and funky designs gave me pangs of nostalgia, which then of course started a Google and YouTube binge for other old-school school supplies. Many of our ’80s and early ’90s favorites are off the shelves for good, but luckily there are some modern alternatives to the retro kids classics:

If you loved YIKES!….

…then you’ll want to get your kids SMENCILS:

Each generation has a school supply trend that can be collected and traded, and while YIKES! looked wild and funky in that ’90s neon, these SMENCILS appeal to a different sense. And because modern parents are a bit more concerned about what children are sniffing up their nose (see “Mr. Sketch” alternatives below), these pencils (wrapped in recycled newspaper) are made from #2 graphite coated in eco-friendly fragrance.

Continue reading for more  school supply favorites, like Lisa Frank, Trapper Keeper and metal cartoon lunch boxes:

If you loved Lisa Frank…

…then you’ll want to get LISA FRANK!

I think we can all agree the colorful, girly goodness that is Lisa Frank simply can’t be redone. Luckily eBay has quite a few of the classic products that girls of any generation will love, from stickers to stationary tins. (We’re talking about the original characters like Rainbow Seal and Panda Painter.) Of course Lisa Frank’s new designs are all still fun and colorful, but much more modern.

If you loved Mr. Sketch….

(This box is from 1991 via flickr)

…then you’ll want to get Clementine Art Products.

Because what on earth were we sniffing?? Of course the best “smelling” alternative would be Smencils (see above), but a better modern-day art product would be these all-natural markers from Clementine Art, made from plant and mineral pigments. They might not be as addicting, but maybe that’s a good thing…

…But if you do love all things smelly, they now make “Smens,” which, like Smencils, are made from recycled newspaper and come in a variety of yummy smells.

(Psss, they do still make Mr. Sketch! You can buy them at a bunch of online venues like Amazon. Hope they smell the same!)

If you loved Trapper Keepers…

…then you’ll want to get The Children’s Place binders.

Back in the day we all stuffed oversized Trapper Keepers into our backpacks, inevitably ripping holes at the corners of our Jansports. And then one day the cool Trapper Keepers suddenly disappeared, leaving us with cheap plastic binders or stacks of notebooks. But now kids can finally make a stylish statement again with this Children’s Place organizational binder with three rings, inner pockets and a stain-resistant covering.

…And if you loved your TV-character lunch boxes and thermoses

…you can still find them!

Jordan found an adorable metal lunchbox featuring The Little Prince — a much cooler character than the typical Disney or Nickelodeon cartoons.

They also have a ton of vintage lunchboxes on eBay, like the metal Care Bears lunch box from 1983 (above) and this ‘80s Alf lunchbox and thermos:

But for a modern (read: new) version of the classic metal style, Jordan found this insanely cool lunch box:

Compartmentalized, insulated and BPA-, lead- and phthalate-free, this is one of our favorite lunch boxes of the year. (Read more here.)

Find more of our favorite school supplies and gear in Babble’s Back to School Guide.

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About michellehorton



Michelle Horton is the founder of Early Mama, an award-winning site that proves young motherhood doesn’t have to define or limit us. When not writing, she’s typically pretending to be a superhero in her 4-year-old son’s imaginative play. Read bio and latest posts → Read Michelle's latest posts →

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6 thoughts on “Retro School Supplies Made Modern (with Old-School Commercials!)

  1. [...] Retro school supply round-ups are all the rage, and Babble has one featuring retro school supplies made modern. Trapper Keeper, [...]

  2. Yuck says:

    Why are more people not angry that our culture is so death-centered that now it’s more common to see skulls on kid/baby clothes than flowers, butterflies, or bunnies?
    Why does anyone think it’s cool to make little kids as jaded and cynical as their parents have become?
    People who make these items, and especially the parents who buy them, are simply pathetic.

  3. Lady says:

    Are skulls better or worse than liscensed characters? I’d much rather have my kids carry a binder covered in skulls than splattered with Disney Princesses. Why would you want to start branding your kid the second they come out of womb? People may think it’s cute and harmless, but to me, it’s just ingraining in them our sick culture of consumerism. Every time we get them something with a Disney character, or Dora the Explorer, or Spiderman on it, we’re teaching them that having the “right” stuff is what really matters, and that being covered in brand name logos is something to be valued. It just squashes any idea of self-expression and teaches them to go along with the crowd. To me, THAT’S what’s pathetic.

  4. Jan says:

    Sometimes the design is more about what makes the child smile then because they care what someone else thinks about it. So if a child wants to express herself with a Superman logo because it makes her feel brave and strong is that commercialism or self-expression?
    Sometimes adults look at the experiences from their politics, rather than from the point of view of the child. Sometimes dressing like a princess is about the sparkles not a statement of feminism.

  5. Angela says:

    I am having a major nostalgia rush right now, into early adulthood, entering my junior year at college, remembering all of the school trends of the 90s. I found my Trapper Keeper from elementary school and it brought back memories of how much fun back-to-school-shopping used to be. By the time I started picking out school supplies, every store had Trapper Keepers that were either Lisa Frank or had a design that looked like the cover of a Goosebumps book, airbrushed, unique, eye-grabbing, and unusual. My older sister grew up in the 80s with the Designer Series Trapper Keepers. She has no idea what has become of hers. But I held on to mine, and I bought another one on ebay. It even came with folders from 1987. In 2011, I found myself excited to start class again using these binders. They spark imagination and individuality, at least in me they did. It is really sad that you just don’t see this type of creativity and detail when searching for back to school things. Our youngest sister is in elementary school now and the choices for notebooks and binders are limited to Disney characters, boring patterns, and solid colors. Maybe these sorts of things aren’t that important. But I think that the selections available in stores today are poor. So poor that someday, I might invest in going into business for myself so that I can sell a wide variety of products which are inspired by nostalgia and spark individuality. Back in the day, every kid had a different backpack or Trapper Keeper and there were so many choices that it allowed them to pick something that represented them. The products that are in stores now don’t really give them that. They have the plain, “customizable” zip up binders that allow kids to draw things and put them on the inside of the plastic, which isn’t bad. But nothing like the artistry of what we used to see. That’s why instead of going to a store, I bought a Lisa Frank binder from the 80s for my sister to take to school with her. She loves it. And even though it is very old, it has stood the test of time. Forget skulls. Forget Disney characters. My little sister will be going to school in style in 2011 like I did back in 1999 and as our older sister did back in 1988. With a vivid, creative, Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper binder that has smiling tigers of multiple colors in a gorgeous jungle utopia.

  6. The Smencils Team says:

    Thanks for your greats mention of Smencils!

    We wanted all of our Smencils fans to be the first to know that we are now bringing “Smanimals” to life. Pink Llamanade, Kangarootbeer, Mint Chocolate Chipmunk and friends are on a journey to become real scented stuffed animals. You can track with their busy lives at at or

    Thanks again for all the Smencil love!

    The Smencils Team

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