back when kids took notes in trapper keepers

There was a time when a Trapper Keeper was a symbol for cool at school.

I went to an all-girls' private school, where some students could be so mean to others who didn't tote branded stuff, and even meaner tho those who owned obvious fakes.

When it comes to binders, snooty little private-schoolers couldn't settle just for any kind of binder; it had to be a Trapper.

Image from the Trapper Keepers Gallery.

An authentic Trapper was easy to identify because of its visible logo and its distinctive features: it had a hard cover, easy-open plastic rings, and a bizarrely-shaped Velcro-fastened flap. The most prominent part of a Trapper though was the cover art: the airbrushed design was always colorful and flashy, bordering on kitschy apparently made by graphic artists who didn't like to subdue paints. But then again, designs like those were everywhere in the '80s.

The garish multicolored patterns were soon considered distasteful in the '90s, when it was fashionable to go grungy and earth-tony and mostly-black-and-white. I don't think Trapper Keepers ever came in in those colors though.

However ugly the design was, it wasn't much of a problem since there was an easy way to personalize a Trapper Keeper. The thing we liked to do was to carefully open up one of the seams using a craft knife and ruler, so we could slip a less offensive design between the printed board and the plastic cover.  Sometimes we inserted a sheet of designer wrapping paper, but more often than not, girls opted for something more, er, poetic.  Like say, a full-page glossy of Johnny Depp or Christian Slater ripped from Teen Beat, as so:

Composited image. Pictures from here, here and here.

Some girls were a bit brainless less imaginative, slipping whatever random fashion magazine ad they thought was pretty. Gucci.  Benetton.  Those black-and-white Guess ads with Drew Barrymore or Anna Nicole Smith.

A Trapper Keeper wasn't just for notes. It was just the right size for filing hand-outs too, and it had a convenient side pocket for storing school supplies. Of course, we couldn't help slipping in some non-school related items in there like letters, song lyrics, doodles, or a glossy Calvin Klein ad featuring a topless Marky Mark (carefully concealed because you can get kicked out of Catholic school for that). I had classmates who had pages solely dedicated to the name of their crush written over and over.

Back in my grade school, Trappers (or any sort of binder) weren't exactly allowed because teachers liked to collect our the notebooks from time to time just to check if we were actually taking notes. The the sight of looseleaf notebooks made grade school teachers go ballistic and they refused to accept stapled binder pages.  Nonetheless, a lot of us insisted on using those Trappers.  Kids who insisted on using Trappers were thus considered by teachers as rebels.

Them rebels prolly thought of themselves as cool, but the stick-to-the-rule geeks like myself thought those "rebels" were idiotic; not being able to turn in a prescribed-sized notebook meant a fat, chunky zero somewhere in Miss Former-Nun-Teacher's record.

In high school, teachers more or less let us use whatever sort of note-taking thingy we liked, and only a few bothered to check whether we took notes or not. In my sophomore year therefore, I decided to coerce my father to finance my first Trapper Keeper. One Trapper cost around 300 to 550 PhP - about a few days' to a weeks' worth of allowance, not cheap at all.  At least not for me. I managed to convince my parents that it was ultimately going to save them money because I could reuse it year after year, instead of buying several spiral notebooks annually.

The one I got was this one, except that the plastic part was blue-green instead of red:

Image from the Trapper Keepers Gallery.

I chose it because it was the least common design at that time. I realize of course that it's infinitely tacky, even cheesy because of the 21 brightly-colored hearts (Yeah, I counted. There was a secret heart hidden somewhere). But at least I didn't have unicorns or a random ugly abstract.

The cover art didn't really matter anyway, since I could slit the seams open and slide in whatever image I preferred. I decided that I wasn't going to be a fangirl, and that I was above putting the face of a celebrity on the cover of my Trapper. I thought of going for a unique and artistic image, so I made my own artworks to show off.

I didn't use my Trapper year after year as I had told my father I would. The daily wear-and-tear (including numerous insertions of artworks) tired it out until I deemed it unfit for showing off carrying to school the following year. By the time I was a senior, I chose a less ostentatious-looking sort of binder.  It looked exactly like a Trapper Keeper without the logo, and the design was mostly just a subdued blue. I felt kind of guilty for getting my dad to buy me something he considered expensive, especially while my first Trapper was still usable, so I decided to take good care of my new one and use it until college.

When I got to college though, I looked like lost a high-schooler toting a huge binder around like that. Furthermore, it was a grand hassle since I did a lot of commuting by then. I quickly retired my still-good-as-new binder and bought a much smaller Cattleya filler notebook, which was the in thing for college kids then.

In hindsight, those Trapper Keepers, though very useful were actually impractical - they were bulky and visually LOUD, and they weren't exactly cheap.

I rarely see students carrying any sort of ring binder these days. Obviously, notebooks are easier to stuff into a backpack.  Though I think today's counterpart of a Trapper Keeper would be the laptop -  for college kids from well-to-do families anyway.  You take can notes on a laptop, store files in them, and you can still put a picture of Johnny Depp in there. Coming to think of it, laptops are practically a must for college students these days, since a lot of teachers no longer take the time to use a chalkboard and prefer to distribute notes via USB.
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