Features Editor Sunny Light reminisces on days at school, and what we might have lost since then…

The so-called ‘Mail Bag’ was a classic staple at school. But leaving for University, does it lose some of its mythology?

From Day One, we’ve taken things to and from school. First, it was lunch boxes and coloured pencils. Some years later, those items were been replaced with worksheets, books, and a pencilcases. Later still, we exchanged those for graphing calculators, laptops and cell phones. And how did we schlep these things back and forth from school? The Schoolbag.

As our first accessory, the Schoolbag was subject to trends, trends that appear to evolve universally. Its evolution parallels its users’ maturation; as we grew up, so did the Schoolbag.

First it was the Backpack, a ubiquitous Schoolbag model. One of my first was one of those hard rectangles with straps. I loved it. I eventually moved onto the more conventional Jansport, but never fell prey to the L. L. Bean initials pack that latched itself onto so many of my peers. At the end of the day, week or whenever she happened to have a glimpse, my mother would find crumpled worksheets and overdue library books smeared with the remnants of spilled snacks. The backpack was great; it was roomy, allowed for free hands, ergonomic and unisex. Aside from the one-strap vs. two-strap issue, they were fashion dispute-free.

All too soon, however, middle school hit. The sixth graders mostly still carried Backpacks, but by seventh and eighth grade, the one-shoulder purse took over among the girls. This was when aesthetics and vanity began superseded practicality; no more hands-free, good-for-your-spine backpacks anymore. It was now the what-ladies-wear lopsided look of maturity. A makeup bag might be thrown in to complete the recipe for womanhood. My own mother tenaciously refused to let me succumb to the trend, arguing orthopedic health reasons, and through I eventually wore her down for about a week, I returned to the Backpack.

You’d be mistaken if you thought boys were immune to fashion trends. Though years later, the Backpack’s power over them waned, too. And like the girls, the boys also had their stint with a one-shoulder vessel: enter the Messenger Bag. Seemingly overnight in eleventh grade, it conquered the male teenage population. Gone were the virile and practical Backpacks casually swung over the shoulder half open, and in came the strappy cloth squares donned with an over-the-head maneuver. The girls were critical; the males we’d thought were rugged non-followers began toting the less-than-masculine handbag. But who were we to judge?

Today at uni, there is an array of Schoolbag models. Though there still appears to be a trend of One-Shoulder bags, there are still a few Backpacks, and even some Briefcases that dot the sea of Longchamps—a [trendy] bag for which, I, myself, exchanged my trusty Backpack. Perhaps we are above trends now; perhaps some of us have reached that level of individuality where trends can no longer reach us. Or perhaps the Schoolbag was never that big a deal.

They seem to have lost their significance—today a bag is a bag, and no longer a Schoolbag. Where the Schoolbag seemed to play an integral role in accompanying primary school lives, a bag is now an instrument that simply does its job. Yet it is comforting to know that despite the evolution/maturation of both our bags and us, we are prone to the same plights that plagued our first packs—spilled snacks (a black banana and some peanuts litter the bottom of mine now), and crumpled papers (documents that may actually matter this time).


 Sunny Light

Image Credit: Marcin Wichary