Here's the Coolest School Accessory Every Year Since 1975
From Little Professor calculators to Lisa Frank...
Every year, like clockwork, some snazzy new accessory becomes the must-have for all school-aged kids. In 1978, it was the Trapper Keeper. In 1990, it was the brightly-colored animals of Lisa Frank. 1999, it was the "Naughty Cow" keychain. Want to take more of a walk down memory lane? Well, grab your hall pass and check out the white-hot accessories that were in every kid's backpack from 1975 to 2019.
1975: "Superstar" Notebooks
In the 1970s, the Mead Corporation released "Superstar" notebooks featuring teen heartthrobs like David Cassidy and Donny Osmond. Thus began the great debate: Team Cassidy or Team Osmond?
1976: Little Professor Calculators
Released in 1976 by Texas Instruments, the Little Professor calculator is widely considered to be the first electronic educational toy. With various difficulty settings and backwards-functioning arithmetic (the screen would display a basic equation, like 2 + 5 = ?), not to mention an adorable design, the calculator helped elementary-aged kids master rudimentary math.
1977: Pee-Chee Folders
First manufactured in the 1940s, Pee-Chee folders (phonetically named, as the story goes, after their peachy coloring) weren't immediately popular when they first hit shelves. But, in 1964, Mead tapped artist Francis Golden to cover them in sports-themed drawings. Their popularity rose throughout the '70s, and peaked in the latter part of the decade. They were "as familiar as bell-bottoms, Beatles albums, and beanbag chairs during the 1960s and '70s," according to the Los Angeles Times. In recent years, the company has rolled out a series of vintage-inspired reissues for 21st-century students to enjoy.
1978: Trapper Keepers
Trapper Keepers, a distinct binder brand with an even more distinct velcro sound, have been in every kid's locker since they first launched in 1978. According to Mental Floss's definitive history of the school accessory out there, when they were initially tested in schools in Wichita, Kansas, they sold old completely.
1979: Scratch-and-Sniff Stickers
Of course, stickers are cool on their own. But you know what's cooler? Stickers that smell amazing. According to Vintage Scratch & Sniff Sticker Collector's Guide, these classroom accessories reached their peak in the late '70s when teachers would hand them out for jobs well done.
1980: Puffy Stickers
In the early 1980s, the only thing better than scratch-and-sniff stickers were puffy stickers. Why smell your stickers if you can run your fingers over them and feel all that three-dimensional glory?
1981: Erasable Pens
The very first erasable ink pen, Paper Mate's Eraser Mate, launched in 1979. By the time the early '80s rolled around, every cool kid started drafting their assignments in ink rather than lead. Mistakes? No problem—just erase away!
1982: Floppy Disks
The floppy disk, an early form of digital data storage, was technically invented in the 1960s. But the technology didn't really take off until the early 1980s, when students started using computers in schools that had floppy drives (thanks, in no small part, to major donations and innovations from Apple). By 1982, many school-aged kids had these essential storage disks tucked away in their backpacks.
1983: Character Lunchboxes
In the early 1980s, lunch boxes were meant for much more than carrying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; they were for showing off your favorite action heroes. We pity the fools who didn't snag an A-Team lunch box before the first day of school.
The yo-yo has swung in and out of style for centuries, but one major resurgence happened in 1984, when yo-yos with ball bearings first hit the market. These yo-yos rolled smoother and longer, making it easier than ever to bust out sweet tricks like the Elevator, the 'Round the World, and the Walk the Dog.
They gained even more street cred in school yards after the 1983 James Bond blockbuster Octopussy featured a "yo-yo thug," played by William Derrick, "complete with a wholly improbable, impractical, and probably suicidal bladed version of a yo-yo," according to The Atlantic.
1985: Mechanical Pencils
Mechanical pencils can be traced back to the 19th century. But their real renaissance was in the mid-'80s, when neon-colored options turned them into the coolest, most functional school accessory around.
Practically speaking, the scrunchy—which was patented in 1986—is just a hair tie. But it's so much more than that. The cool kids at school in the mid- to late-'80s quickly gave it a newer, chicer use: as a bracelet. (And the coolest kids took it another step further: using it as an anklet.)
1987: Fun Erasers
Unicorns? Pac-Man fruit? Santa Claus? The pink parallelogram holds nothing on the fun and wacky erasers of the late '80s.
1988: Hello Kitty Pencil Cases
Sure, Hello Kitty has countless anime, manga, and fashion accessories featuring her likeness. She also has a dedicated theme park (Sanrio Puroland in Ochiai, Tokyo) and jetliner (as a part of the EVA Airways fleet). But in the late '80s, Hello Kitty's peak was colorful hard-shell pencil cases. If you didn't have one, you could kiss your social status goodbye.
1989: Speak & Spell
The Speak & Spell—a portable educational game launched in 1978—got a major redesign in 1989: a snazzy new LCD screen and a QWERTY keyboard, rather than the alphabetic one featured on previous editions. Suddenly, Speak & Spells were everywhere.
1990: Lisa Frank
Lisa Frank burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, when the company first started selling school supplies. By 1990—and throughout rest of the decade, too—the vivaciously colored brand was inescapable in schools across the nation. Folders, pencils, erasers, you name it—if there was a school accessory out there, you could bet your Trapper Keeper there was a Lisa Frank-branded version of it.
1991: Retired Crayola Crayons
In 1990, for the first time, Crayola retired eight crayon colors—maize, lemon yellow, blue gray, raw umber, green blue, orange red, orange yellow, and violet blue—and placed them in the Crayola Hall of Fame. Basically, it was just a marketing strategy that 1990s kids totally fell for: Everyone just had to have the "collector's edition" tin box of the retired colors that Crayola released in 1991.
1992: Colorful Pencil Grips
The original pencil grip was invented by an educational therapist in 1992, in order to help children correct any devastatingly messy handwriting. But it also just made writing with a pencil way easier. As a result, the thing sold like hotcakes. Decades later, the O.G. design is still going strong.
1993: Spacemaker Pencil Boxes
Whether you used these nifty storage spaces as intended (for pencils and pens) or not (to hold the string of your friendship bracelets), one thing's for sure: No school accessory in history has ever been more quintessentially '90s.
1994: Tie-Dye Book Covers
Classrooms are only allotted a certain number of textbooks. As a result, teachers have to pass them down through the years, and students generally have to protect them with covers to keep the actual book covers in good shape. For years, kids used brown paper bags as book covers. But then, in the mid-'90s, an alternative popped up: colorful tie-dye nylon covers. (Yes, they're still available today on Amazon.)
1995: Stamper Markers
The concept of the stamper marker was simple: It's a marker, but the tip has a shape (say, a star, or a flower, or a butterfly, or a heart). First introduced in 1994 by the marker whizzes at Crayola, by the time the 1995 school year rolled around, every kid had a set. To get your own as an adult (you know you want to), you can start with this classic set from Crayola, still available on Amazon today.
1996: Multicolored Push Pens
The patent for the multicolor pen can be traced back to 1960s. But teachers would never accept an assignment written in green ink at the time. In the mid- '90s, however, it was not uncommon to see kids rock these multi-colored accessories as those stringent ink-related rules faded away.
In the summer of 1997, Bandai's Tamagotchi—a "digital pet" that came with a keychain, perfect to clip onto your backpack—came to the U.S. Every kid was obsessed with feeding their Tamagotchi and helping them go to the bathroom so that they didn't get sick and die. By the time the school year began, principals were quickly banning these cyberpets left and right. "It became very disruptive," one teacher told The New York Times. "The children were checking it every five seconds."
1998: Gelly Roll Pens
Sakura Color Products Corporation launched Gelly Roll Metallic pens in a rainbow of opaque reflective colors in late 1997—and, with the ability to write on black paper, the pen took off as the hottest school accessory in 1998.
"Anyone else have Milky Pens?" one Reddit thread posited about a similarly popular writing utensil. With an "upvote" (that's Reddit-speak for "approval") of 95 percent, the answer is a resounding yes.
1999: Naughty Cow Keychains
We know they're cringeworthy. But it's hard not to laugh at these "Naughty Cow" keychains that every kid had in the late '90s on their Jansport backpacks. (If you want to play a practical joke on your friends, you can still get one on Amazon now.)
First introduced in 1989, Lunchables reached a whole new height of popularity in the aughts, when, in addition to crackers, meats, and cheeses, you'd find all manner of outside brands inside that iconic yellow box. Kool-Aid, Reese's, Capri Sun, Kit-Kat, Jell-O, AirHead, and, well, pretty much any other artery-clogging snack millennials loved growing up joined forces with the Oscar Meyer classic at the turn of the century.
2001: Baby-G Watches
Cool kids in the late 20th century rocked a Timex or Swatch. But after we survived that whole Y2K panic, Baby-G watches became the coolest timepiece in school hallways. Don't believe us? Even Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) of Gilmore Girls fame counted one as part of her wardrobe.
The very first iPod hit shelves on October 23, 2001, and we'll give you one guess what topped every kid's wish list that holiday season. Needless to say, by 2002, iPods were all over school busses and homerooms.
2003: L.L. Bean Backpacks
Everyone knows L.L. Bean for their winter boots (which sell out year after year after year). Just as iconic: the company's reflective backpacks, which have barely been altered at all over the years. If you didn't have your monogram plastered on yours in the early 2000s, you weren't among the cool kids.
2004: Flavored Lip Balm
Children of the 1980s had Dr. Pepper-flavored Lip Smackers, but kids of the mid-2000s had Starburst and Skittles flavors, which launched in 2004. If you didn't have any to share with your seat mate at lunch, you definitely weren't getting invited to that sleepover at Jenna's on Friday night.
2005: Motorola Razrs
First released in 2004, the Motorola Razr experienced stratospheric popularity in the following three years (before Apple slammed the breaks on that by releasing the iPhone in 2007).
Owning a device that looked like a James Bond gadget was cool, for sure, but the main draw of owning one of these things for school-aged kids was the unwritten trading game. See, the Razr was available in more than a dozen colors—from classic tech shades, like black and steel, to more snazzy hues, like hot pink, which launched in 2005—and the battery case was interchangeable. Thus, friends would regularly mix and match their phones at school to see who could come up with the coolest color combo. (Hot pink and black, for the win!)
2006: Happy Bunny Notebooks and Folders
Artist and author Jim Benton created Happy Bunny, a cartoon rabbit who looks happy but is in fact really grouchy and mean (and says things like "I hate everything"), in the 1990s. But it languished in cult status until the early 2000s, when Hot Topic picked up the rights. In the years that followed, every binder and laptop and paper bag book cover had at least one of these stickers, which started to become a problem.
In the mid-2000s, in fact, some schools started banning the sharp-tongued bunny because his words were just too cruel, like "You're ugly and that's sad" and "It's cute how stupid you are." "We consider that harassment, and we just don't allow it," one principal told the Chicago Tribune in 2005.
2007: Ugg Boots
In the mid-2000s, even if temperatures had barely dipped into the 60s by the time school started, every kid had to have a pair of Australian Ugg boots, which launched in baby blue and baby pink shades earlier in the decade. By 2007, the first stateside Ugg stores started cropping up in metropolitan areas, meaning every celebrity-obsessed middle schooler and beyond just had to get a pair.
2008: Silicone Awareness Bracelets
In 1997, Lance Armstrong created the Livestrong Foundation to spread awareness and raise funds for cancer research. The organization's chief form of marketing? Yellow silicone wristbands, which were cheap to produce and easy to recognize. In the decade that followed, they spawned a bona fide trend among the cool kids at school: half of their arms were filled with a rainbow of silicone bands that stood for the causes of their choice.
2009: Scented Erasers
Scented erasers have been around for years, but they had a resurgence in the late 2000s. As you can see in this collection from the Japanese Erasers Museum, plenty of colorful scented erasers hit the market in 2009, including kawaii animal-designed options.
2010: Silly Bandz
In the early 2010s, Silly Bandz—essentially, just colorful rubber bands in random shapes—were everywhere…and we mean everywhere. Not only did students wear them as bracelets, they collected them, traded them, and (of course) flicked them across homerooms. They became such a ubiquitous nuisance that, in 2010, schools started banning them. (And if you're lookin' to start trouble, you can buy some on Amazon today.)
When the first iPad came out in 2010, people were skeptical. But when the second iPad came out in 2011, it upped the ante in pretty much every way: more memory, crisper resolution, and faster processing speeds. Suddenly, every kid had to have one.
Plus, you could also stream Netflix and Hulu, which had just started to take off. Study Hall? More like Watch TV and Don't Do Any Work Hall!
2012: Quirky Sticky Notes
You could use a square sticky note, but that'd be totally square. In the era of Urban Outfitters' revival (and all the funky fun that came with it), the coolest sticky notes came in wacky shapes and colors. If you're feeling nostalgic, you can get some lime green turtles today on Amazon.
2013: Inspirational Planners
The teens of the early 2010s intrinsically knew what psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals try to get their adult clients to understand: "Cheesy" affirmations totally work and they were all over notebook covers.
2014: Beats by Dre Headphones
The most popular teenage fashion accessory of 2014 was a tech accessory. On August 1, 2014, Apple acquired Beats by Dre, a top-shelf headphone company founded by rapper Dr. Dre and record exec Jimmy Iovine. Shortly after, every kid with a smartphone wanted a pair. Good luck getting Jackson to listen in Biology class, Mr. Williams!
2015: Mini Locker Dry-Erase Boards
By 2014, many students had a cell phone with which to digitally keep track of homework, extracurriculars, and social events. That meant "old-school" white boards were just for fun and kids were quick to affix them to the inside of their lockers. Oh, and if you knew your best friend's combination, you could open their locker and leave them a note!
2016: Flashy USB Flash Drives
The first USB flash drives in the early 2000s could only hold 8MB of data. In recent years, though, drives have storage capacities that rival that of some small computers (128GB and higher!). And the coolest kids in school picked up flashy flash drives—gizmos camouflaged as cacti and other adorable designs.
2017: Herschel Backpacks
Herschel backpacks have all but replaced their L.L. Bean and Jansport counterparts in the school hallways of America in recent years, thanks, in no small part, to Instagram influencers.
"We knew there was a big opportunity to come up with something that was design-driven, something that [was] classic in its nature, but also had a really nice attention to detail," Lyndon Cormack, one of the brand's co-founders, told People in 2017 for an article titled, "This Is Why You See Herschel Backpacks Everywhere." And you most certainly did.
2018: Stylish Stainless Steel Water Bottles
By now, it's fairly well accepted that bisphenol A (BPA), a major ingredient in most plastics, is potentially dangerous. Ergo, the rise of stainless steel water bottles in the 2010s. Bonus: They keep liquids cooler for longer, are stylish, and are more eco-friendly. You can see why they've become a Gen Z staple in schools nationwide.
2019: Portable Cell Phone Chargers
Hey, quietly scrolling through Instagram for the entirety of third period really takes a toll on a phone's battery life! And for more super-fun nostalgia, here are 100 Photos That Kids Born After 2000 Will Never Understand.
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