From the Design Desk: Back-to-School Flash Forward

Growing up in Baltimore, the end of August was significant for several reasons. It meant a reprieve from the energy-sucking humidity of summer, the final messy crab feasts, and the end of long, lazy days at the local pool spent doing absolutely nothing. But most importantly, it meant the start of a new school year. And the start of school meant the Annual Back-to-School Shopping Trip!

First stop was always McCrory’s, a favorite in the five-and-dime-store tradition, now sadly gone. At McCrory’s, one could find anything and everything, from pencils to notebooks to the cool ribbons we’d use to create those one-of-a-kind braided barrettes that were so popular in the ‘80s. It was at McCrory’s that I bought my first two cassettes (the Eagles’ Greatest Hits and Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler) AND my favorite Pete’s Dragon lunchbox (with thermos!). This store was a gold mine.

McCrory postcard, courtesy of Little Wonder Records; 1950 ad courtesy of Vince Staten; closed McCrory store in Louisville, KY, photo by

Next stop: that special back-to-school outfit. Having packed away my terrycloth Orioles halter top (souvenir of Halter Top Day! at Memorial Stadium) until next summer, it was time for some Fall fashions at Finkelsteins and The Gap. Finkelsteins was an establishment in Baltimore, and my memories are of dark wood, corduroys, and back issues of The Maryland Horse magazine stacked at the counter for the taking. And The Gap of my youth is not the blue-box logo Gap of today. No, this was The Gap of “Fall into the Gap” jingles, saloon-style dressing room doors, and towers of denim.

If you were to make a style board of my Back-to-School Shopping Trip, it would look something like this:

(1) Orioles baseball team logo from the 1970s; (2) Greatest Hits by the Eagles; (3) vintage Pete’s Dragon lunchbox; (4) The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach; (5) boys’ whale belt from Chesapeake Ribbons; and (6) Pink Pearl eraser by Papermate

Seeing as it’s once again the end of August and people everywhere are heading back to school, it seems fitting to resurrect my own Annual Back-to-School Shopping Trip using the styles of days gone past as inspiration.

(1) Paradise Ascending Top by Anthropologie; (2) Eagle Gem Bib necklace by Free People; (3) Lunchskins reusable sandwich bags and snack baggies; (4) bento box by Plastica; (5) Secrets of Stylists by Sasha Charnin Morrison, published by Chronicle Books; (6) Kikkerland Endangered Species Rhino Eraser; and (7) whale poster by Tad Carpenter for Land of Nod

The caged Oriole has been freed to flutter in orange and charcoal grey in Anthropologie’s Paradise Ascending Top, while the eagle from the album cover looks so chic translated into this Eagle Gem Bib necklace. Classroom lunches get a makeover with this sophisticated but fun bento box set and Lunchskins reusable sandwich and snack bags. Preppy gives way to star-caliber style and the Endangered Species Rhino eraser makes a statement for both the fashion- and eco-conscious. Tad Carpenter’s framed whale art for Land of Nod will brighten any dorm or bedroom wall (Tad is the illustrator for both Simple Steps Toward a Healthier Earth and the upcoming Eat & Play).

Skyline Snowballs photograph by Aya Brackett

And if the school year gets off to a bad start grade-wise, Chronicle’s F in Exams is proof that you’re not alone. If that’s not enough to lift your spirits (though I’m confident it will), head to the East Bay and track down the Skylite Snowballs truck for a marshmallow-topped snowball in a rainbow of flavors. These snowballs brought to you by Katie Baum with flavors by Chez Panisse pastry chef, Stacy Pierce, are a cool update on a Baltimore classic that will transport you back to summer, if only until the start of your next class.

Jennifer Tolo Pierce
Design Director

Jennifer Tolo Pierce

Jennifer Tolo Pierce is a Design Director at Chronicle Books with a love of all things words and images, particularly as they intersect in the realm of lifestyle and children’s publishing.
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  • Kristen August 30, 2011 at 8:20 am

    i love the then and now style boards! I think I had that whale belt, ha!


  • Sally Spratt August 30, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Oh, so love the old and new style boards! What about Peeche folders? Where is Pete's Dragon now?


    • Jennifer August 31, 2011 at 7:01 pm

      Sadly, I didn't have the pleasure of knowing about Peeche folders until I moved to California in the late '80s, but better late than never. And I WISH I had that lunchbox still. Luckily, my five year old likes the movie as much as I did, so I have an excuse to watch it (many times over).


  • lynneGB August 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I had no idea about the former Gap. Old Navy still uses that marketing technique!! Would have love to see a vintage or newly refined trapper-keeper. Nothing says back to school better than an oversized one-stop shop school container.


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