The Cult of Caboodles Meghan O'Keefe

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.

A People profile on Vanna White changed the world of cosmetics carrying cases forever. (PS you should check out People.com's archives next time you're bored. IT'S AMAZING.)

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.

If Caboodles had never been created, you would have to carry your false eyelashes around in this. Next to the rubber flies. (Everyone has rubber flies, right?)

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.

What up, Caboodle? Let's go fish for some boys.

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.

My Caboodle looked a lot like this one, except it was the color of burgundy wine. At 12, I intuitively knew how much red wine would mean to me as a grown woman.

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.

This picture illustrates how empty my Caboodle was on the inside and how empty my own adolescence was.

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).

Thank you, Caboodles, for making everything inside you look so black and white (and pink). If only my cosmetics didn't come in every color of the rainbow.

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.

This contemporary Caboodle is tempting me with its ability to compartmentalize ALL of my makeup/issues.

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  1. I have the metal one from the last picture (plus a matching smaller one for travel) and the two-tone teal/purple.

  2. They don’t sell them anymore! I still have mine. It was a pretty simple one (only one tray). It was melon on the outside and purple on the inside.

  3. My much older sisters had Caboodles, and being the baby of the family, I *surely* had to have one too, and didn’t stop telling my parents this till I got one. I’m pretty sure my sisters had many an eye roll over my carrying my measly Polly Pockets around in my little Caboodle. But oh well, I felt like the coolest 6 year old ever.

    Anonymous | 10/23/2011 11:10 pm
  4. I just noticed my own Caboodle on the shelf next to me. Hadn’t thought of the brand name as much before, but now I know about all this history behind it! Mine currently stores some craft supplies. When I first got it, I think it held my sticker collection! I guess I wasn’t much of a “girl” back then.

  5. Haha. YES YES and YES. Loved my Caboodle.

  6. OMG I had totally forgotten about Caboodles! I had one of these and loved it! I kept all of my jewelry in it!

  7. Holy s**t. I think I am you’re older sister…well to my younger sister, and borthers, and mom, and anyone with ears and some time on their hands really. 0.O

  8. I totally forgot about these! I used to have a Caboodle. And then I had a purple sparkly imitation from Limited Too (now called Justice, lol). It held sparkly nail polish, a bunch of lip glosses, Disney’s Jasmine blush haha, and whatever else I thought was relevant at the time! Great post! :)

  9. i had a caboodle filled with nail polish that my best friend and i would paint…with more nail polish of course.

  10. I don’t think I had a real Caboodle, but I did have a Caboodle-like box that was heart-shaped with a mirror and a removable, divided shelf. I don’t think I really had anything to put in there (didn’t seriously wear makeup until I was 20), but I felt OMG so ~mature~ that I had a Caboodle-like box.

  11. My older sisters both had caboodles too! So in elementary school I begged my mom for one, and she got me the smallest little thing ever. Now that I’m 20 I’ve upgraded to the big n bad caboodles. My niece’s 5th birthday is coming up and I bought her her first caboodle, along with accessories I picked out so she’d have something to put in it.

  12. How did I need an entire Caboodles for my make-up and hair products at age 13?

  13. I have the very same Caboodle in my bathroom right now. Very handy! I still use it for makeup storage. I used to had the one you had, but used it for toys.

  14. I felt the same way about caboodles! My older cousins had them and I thought they were the coolest and a must for a women, along with noxzema.

  15. I still use my Caboodle from the early 90′s when I travel! I have 5 different Vera Bradley makeup bags, yet the Caboodle is my go to case for traveling. I realize I have completely outgrown it and it is a bit embarrassing but my liquid toiletries seem so much safer in the hard plastic shell of a

    Caboodle than in some fabric bag. Thanks for showing the Caboodle some love!

  16. I totally had that purple and teal caboodle … I never knew about them until I went to camp one summer, and all the girls had caboodles and I had a boring plastic travel toiletry bag. THE. SHAME. I went home and nagged my mom until she bought one. As I remember, mine only had to sliding trays on top, and one big space on the bottom. Not as cool as those organizational tackle boxes from years past. Oh well…

  17. My best friend had the caboodle in the main picture…it brings back so many memories of us putting on lipstick and playing with every little thing her mom set up in there for us. <3 Childhood.

  18. OMG! This brings back so many memories. My mom had the Caboodle in the featured picture. Same colors and all. When she was done using it for makeup, she passed it on to me where I held my play makeup, coins, etc. Pretty much anything I could fit I did.

  19. I had that exact same caboodle in the fourth picture down. I think I still have it somewhere. Now I know I have a more modern neon green one tuck away in my closet somewhere.

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