I have an unnatural obsession with Caboodles. Actually, that’s not true. I have an unnatural obsession with how Caboodles make me feel. As a child, I associated them with being a fun, focused, sophisticated young woman. As I got older, well… let’s just say things got complicated.
Caboodles were invented in 1986 after People magazine ran a fetching photograph of Vanna White using a Plano Molding Company tackle box to hold her make-up. Women across the nation took notice of Ms. White’s ingenious organization skills. For their part, the marketing team at Plano Molding Company wasn’t comprised of fools. They knew that there was no more aspirational female figure in 1980’s culture than Vanna White. She was beautiful, glamorous, and she barely spoke.
The geniuses (no, seriously, Caboodles are genius) at Plano Molding Company decided to market a new line of boxes specifically designed to carry cosmetics. These new boxes would have softer edges, a pastel color range and a cute name to signal to female customers that these boxes were for them. These weren’t gross tackle boxes made to carry icky stuff like fish bait or hooks; They were Caboodles, designed to carry our gender specific bait: lipstick, hair rollers, nail polish and blush. You know, the type of bait you need to hook men or go fishing for compliments. And so, Caboodles were born.
I think one of the reasons I immediately connect being a woman with owning a Caboodle is because my older sisters each owned a Caboodle–and I didn’t. It became an emblem of their maturity (as all three of them were in high school when I was born). One of my sisters, Colleen, had a hissy fit any time I went near her Caboodle, as she had it organized a very specific way. My grubby little girl fingers were not supposed to taint her special lady things. Another sister, Kara, took the opposite approach. She gleefully showed me everything she kept in her Caboodle and narrated to me their significance. “This is a bottle of Chanel No. 5 Dad got me for Christmas. It’s not the strong stuff, but it’s still the same perfume Marilyn Monroe wore. She’s dead, but when she was alive she was the most beautiful woman in the world. This is the blush I bought from Clinique at their last sale. Christy Turlington wears it. And this is the Estee Lauder lipstick I wore on that date with that guy I met at that party last week. He was cute.” Movie stars, name brands and boyfriends: it was the mythology of being a woman. I marveled appropriately at all the wonders the Caboodle held and understood why Colleen didn’t want me touching hers.
And that is why at some point in my early adolescence, I convinced my mother to let me pick out my very own Caboodle.
The Caboodles of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were bigger and they didn’t have as many organizational features as the original models my sisters owned. The company was moving away from a feminine tackle box design and closer to a plastic catch all. I still remember what I kept in my very first Caboodle: glitter nail polish, q-tips, clear mascara and a hairbrush I stole from my mom. I felt very glamorous, until I realized all I had to keep in a Caboodle was glitter nail polish, q-tips, clear mascara and a hair brush that didn’t even belong to me. The Caboodle was entirely unnecessary. It stayed on a dark bottom shelf of my “toy closet”. I only took it out twice a year during Easter and Christmas when I had to get dressed up for Church and feel pretty. Then I’d open it again, feeling excited about the lady things that were about to take place, and then I’d realize, once more, the only beauty products I owned were glitter nail polish, dirty q-tips, a crusty tube of clear mascara and a hairbrush that my mom was still looking for.
For me, the Caboodle was kind of the first real disappointment of womanhood. I was too young to have secrets to hide or a life worth keeping organized. It’s one thing to be a 1980’s television personality like Vanna White who needs to lug around hundreds of different eye shadow shades and foundations from studio to studio. But for me, owning a Caboodle just reflected how badly I was trying to be a woman when I wasn’t yet. I wasn’t pretty or organized. I was awkward and liked to read Star Wars novels and listen to obscure pop albums from the UK like it was cool (although it wasn’t).
Even though I understand that Caboodles are just tackle boxes gussied up by a smart marketing team to appeal to ladies, I still feel like they represent something deeply feminine. I think a lot of women feel the need to take all the madness in their lives and find a way to make it fit into an appealing package. By promising to organize beauty products, Caboodles are also suggesting they can organize your entire lives. I understood at very young age that Caboodles contained the myth of being a woman. Maybe that myth isn’t the idea that perfumes and eye shadows make you a woman, but that everything that does make us women can be fit neatly into one single package. As most of us have figured out by now, being a woman is wonderful and fun, but it’s too complicated to ever fit neatly into any one box. However, Caboodles bank on the idea that most of us will never stop trying to fit everything into one box. That includes me.