Teen girls in the late '80s and early '90s had to have a Caboodles organizer—the bright plastic cases filled with trays for organizing their makeup. (If you had one, you probably grew up to be the kind of person who hangs out in The Container Store for fun.) Now, the vintage organizers are back in stores. Here's what you should know.
1. THEY WERE INSPIRED BY TACKLE BOXES.
Although company legend has it that Caboodles were inspired by a 1986 People magazine photo shoot where Vanna White used a fishing tackle box as a makeup organizer, Caboodles were actually the brainchild of New Zealand native Leonie Mateer. When she relocated to California in the 1980s, Mateer wanted to start a business; she recalled that she had once seen a model arriving to a photoshoot with a tackle box to organize her cosmetics, and an idea was born.
2. THE FIRST COMPANY MATEER APPROACHED REJECTED THE IDEA.
Mateer writes in her book, The Caboodle Blueprint: Turn Your Idea Into Millions, that she began by researching all the companies that made tackle boxes. The first company she approached offered to use their tools to create the boxes, then backed out.
3. MATEER GAVE THE IDEA AWAY.
The second manufacturer Mateer called (Plano Molding, though she doesn't name the company in her book) was interested, and hired her to launch Caboodles. "[The company] initially hired me as a consultant to create the line, market and develop the brand, set up the rep force and sell the product to the retailers," Mateer writes. "As I didn't have the capital required to launch a full product line, this manufacturer immediately took ownership of the brand and the products and invested all the capital required to create, market, and sell the product. I became an employee of this company." Later in Blueprint, she acknowledges that she gave the idea away: "I was given something that money cannot buy—hands on experience … I often say that Caboodles was my college education." Mateer left Caboodles in the early '90s to start a competitor, Sassaby, that was purchased by Estee Lauder; she did eventually return to Caboodles as a consultant.
4. SHE CAME UP WITH THE NAME IN THE BATHTUB.
"I knew that the name needed to be colorful if it was to appeal to my target audience—teens," Mateer writes in Blueprint, and she wanted it to be a C word. "I was sitting in my bathtub reading a huge Oxford English Dictionary," she recalled. "I came across 'Caboodles,' which had a definition of 'a collection or clutter of things.' How perfect, I thought, for an organizer box."
5. THE COLORS CAME FROM HAIR DRYERS.
Just as the name had to be colorful, so did the boxes themselves. To come up with just the right ones, Mateer and the manufacturer visited "a local discount store where I chose four brightly colored plastic hair dryers in peach, yellow, pink, and purple," she writes. As she was checking out, she told a clerk who was curious about why they were buying so many hair dryers that they were for her new product, Caboodles—it was the first time she had named her idea out loud.
6. THEY HIT THE MARKET WITH THE TAGLINE "THE WHOLE KIT 'N' CABOODLE GOES INTO A CABOODLE!"
The first boxes, called "on-the-go organizers," hit the market in 1987. They were a runaway hit, selling 2 million units in the first two years. In 1992, The New York Times reported that an official at Plano said the company "now sells far more makeup boxes than it does tackle boxes," and that "nearly 80 percent of the teen-age girls in the country are aware of Caboodles." Eventually the line grew to 70 products, which retailed between $5 and $40.
7. THE ORGANIZER'S FIRST COMMERCIAL WASN'T EXACTLY PROGRESSIVE.
In the ad, which came out in 1988, two sisters hear from their brother that his friend is coming over "in his Porsche." The girls quickly run upstairs to get dolled up. The sister with the Caboodles case is ready in a snap; her sister, not so much. The friend with the Porsche? He turns out to be a nerd.
8. THE FANS WERE DEVOTED.
One 13-year-old fan from a suburb of Minneapolis told the Times that "she and her friends would make fun of any compatriot foolish enough to show up at a slumber party with a rival brand." Way harsh.
9. THERE WAS A LINE FOR KIDS …
It was targeted to girls aged 5 to 10. "Little ones can use the Caboodles Playsets for fantasy play," Meredith Moss wrote in the Dayton Daily News in 1993. "The cases come with a little fashion doll and have themes ranging from a beauty spa and beach to a workout gym and a wedding." There were also necklaces equipped with tiny Caboodles "that open to reveal an accessory inside."
10. … AND A CABOODLES BARBIE.
In the early '90s, Caboodles partnered with Mattel to release a Caboodles Barbie. The doll retailed for $12.99 and came with "a real makeup case and glitter beach makeup," according to a 1993 ad. You can still get one on Etsy or eBay.
11. DEBBIE GIBSON APPEARED IN A CABOODLES COMMERCIAL.
The pop star was "the original face of Caboodles," according to a press release. In 2013, she promoted Caboodles again, posting a video of herself on her YouTube channel with a Caboodles purse ("Two brands that ruled the 80s are now sophisticated, grown up versions—Pop Icon Debbie Gibson and Fashion Icon Caboodles," the info read). "I've got my life in here," she said, "including my makeup, all organized."
12. THE VINTAGE CASES ARE BACK.
13. GYMNAST SIMONE BILES IS A BRAND AMBASSADOR.
In celebration of Caboodles' 30th anniversary in 2017, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles—"an avid fan of Caboodles from an early age," according to a press release—signed on to be Chief Design Influencer for a line of Caboodles products. "I've always been a fan of Caboodles and am so excited to be able to help develop products that represent my personality and fashion sense in and out of the gym," she said. "Caboodles has been a big part of my cosmetic routine for as long as I can remember and it's a brand that I continue to rely on today."