Caboodles has a fun origin story. The company was created in 1987 when People Magazine printed a photo of Vanna White with her makeup collection, which she kept in a tackle box made by the Plano Molding Company. Plano Molding saw the story, realized the potential of this untapped lady market, and bam, Caboodles was born!
The first Caboodles case stayed pretty true to the tackle box shape and functionality, but was coated in perky shades of white and peach. The company reissued a limited edition version of that first case for its 25th anniversary in 2012, which now resells for up to $200 on eBay.
Soon enough though, the lines softened and the color options expanded. I still have my pink, peach and turquoise Caboodles case from the early days, which I’ve used to hold everything from makeup to chemistry sets to plumbing tools to art supplies. They were a staple of sleepovers and “getting ready” rituals before middle school dances (a spritz of Love’s Baby Soft and some Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker and you were GOOD TO GO).
From the start, Caboodles were marketed to a female audience. They are still portrayed as girly, fun, and frivolous accessories. Candy-coated signifiers of superficial pursuits.
BUT. There is something about a Caboodles case that always made me feel powerful. And I suspect I’m not the only one.
Humans are a species that rose to dominance with the help of tools. We used flint to make fire. We fashioned a wheel. We created an axe, and then cut down trees in order to make more tools we could carry around with us. And in modern culture, where women not only get paid less than men but are also allowed fewer pockets, access to portable tools (and the self-reliance it provides) still feels like a bit of a power play, doesn’t it?
Caboodles, in all their pastel glory, helped open a new world of possibilities for me, and I hope for a lot of other girls as well. They were fun of course, and that was the initial draw. But they came to represent so many values that weren’t previously being marketed to girls with the same vigor they were for boys, like organization, preparedness, and competence. Caboodles represented CAPACITY, in whatever form you wanted it to take and however you wanted to fill it. And that is some sneakily powerful magic to unleash for a young person, whatever their gender.
It’s been 32 years since Caboodles hit the scene, and they’re marketing the original designs in a new “Retro” line. I’m having fond thoughts about what delightful items might soon be filling the pink, purple and lime green Caboodles of middle schoolers (and adults!) of all genders. Maybe some fuzzy stickers for trading with a friend, homemade lunches, raspberry pi computers, insulin shots, Burts Bees, or a harmonica or two. The possibilities are endless.
So the next time you catch a glimpse of a Caboodles in the wild, say a silent thanks to Vanna White, and imagine all the possibilities that are waiting to be explored in that little piece of pink plastic perfection.