Calling Nonsense on “Back To School Essentials”

I’ve written before this week about how my newsfeed and everything around me is screaming “Back to School”. It being almost the start of September, that is to be expected. My inbox is also being bombarded with back to school emails, both from companies that I really should unsubscribe from thanks to the levels of junk mail I wind up with, and press releases which I don’t think my toddler and I really fit into their target market. I’ve noticed a resounding theme – everything is being marketed as “Back to School Essentials”, in some ways a “you-are-terrible-if-you-don’t-have-it” item. What are we talking about here, books, schoolbags, lunch boxes? Not exactly. So I’m calling nonsense on these essentials, which if you check out my list you might agree with!

Back To Schools Essentials - Calling Nonsense on some of the silly ones!

So where to begin with the must-have back to school items? There are a couple of bits which make me wonder what exactly the people who came up with these ideas were thinking – some smack of cluelessness, people who have never been in that situation (lots of those create baby products too), others are just careless marketing. Either way, there are some seriously questionable ideas being paraded around as back to school essentials.


1. The Fashionable White Top for the School Run.

Brown Thomas, I’m looking at you. I received an email this weekend telling me all about the Back To School Essential look – marketing it as the “School Runway”. Miranda Kerr is the lady they’re trying to model us all on, a brave woman who has clearly not been near her child while he’s been eating breakfast or brushing his teeth until he was washed and wiped from top to bottom, looking at her stylish look for the wander to the school gates. A white top in this house is a rarity – any tops I do wear tend to wind up with sticky handprints, snail trails from noses wiped sneakily during cuddles and whatever dirt the child has managed to acquire in the five milliseconds since the last time I washed him or wiped him down with wet wipes.

For the creche run, I normally stick to a uniform of jeans, a long (dark) top and my runners – it’s not a fashion show, I’m literally spending five minutes dropping my child off into someone elses care, then heading back to my house at the moment. Most of the time my hair is thrown into a messy ponytail just to look like I’ve not just rolled out of bed. However, their essentials collection gives me two options to choose from to make sure that I’m rocking the footpath as I walk towards the creche gates, making sure my child’s hand does not leave mine or come anywhere near my outfit.

Essential Item 1_ The Statement White Top For The School Run - Debuncking the School Essentials


It’s a difficult decision, isn’t it? I think I might just stick to my own dark top for now, and try to set my own trend.


2. The Fake Tan

Back when I was in secondary school in the mid-noughties, it seemed that our school uniform was intended to make sure that any boys who had ANY thoughts towards us were seriously impaired by it. Case in point, long skirt (down to just above the ankle) and knee socks pulled up to the knee – reminiscent of the Victorian fear of seeing ankles. The highlight of our week when we were in older years was Tuesday afternoon, when the boys from Transition Year in the boy’s school across the road would come over to do Home Economics with our Transition Years. A mass flurry to the one (rather crap) mirror in the upstairs bathroom to apply a four inch layer of foundation and lipgloss which marketed itself as to make you “irresistably kissable” was had as a weekly pilgrimage. This, despite the fact that there was only a chance you’d actually come across said boys, and even if you did, unless you were in that class, it was for likely a passing glance in the corridor before a teacher moved you along. Oh the joys of convent school life.

I somehow think that things may have changed for the students of today however, as it appears that a new essential for back to school is fake tan, according to a recent post on The only time I have EVER worn fake tan in school was during our run of Jesus Christ Superstar and that was down to the entire cast having to resemble people who lived in the Middle East instead of South East Ireland (impeded only slightly by the multiple boys who had neglected to buy their own fake tan out of sheer mortification and wound up wearing the stuff with added sparkle, purchased by their sisters or female friends who had a sense of humour). We used to get in trouble if it was suspected that we were wearing black leggings under our skirts, for crying out loud, I think a certain Home Ec teacher may have had a stroke altogether if we were coming in sporting skin that at best looked like we’d spent the entire summer abroad, and at worst like we’d fallen into a vat of Ronseal.

While Dunnes have since come out and stated they made a mistake in this campaign, it does make me wonder how many Mammies stocked up to ensure that their daughters weren’t the odd (pale) one out.

Photograph from Louise Hennessy, reproduced from

3. Artisan theme-based bento lunches.

Okay, so the thought of eating the same lunch every day for a year isn’t exactly appealing. Much as you love a ham roll every now and again, if you knew it was all you had to look forward to for the next eternity, that love would fade fairly quickly. Youtube and Tumblr has been responsible for introducing the world of what can only be described as lunchbox art to this side of the world, and boy are these things works of art. You certainly couldn’t say it was the same “boring old lunch” when it’s shaped like a butterfly, or a Pokemon themed salad.

However, if your child ignores the vegetables you put on their plate at dinner, it’s highly unlikely that just because you made it look like lego they’ll be converts to cucumber and beetroot. Make their lunch something they’ll eat at home – even if that does mean a ham roll every day. Don’t waste good food – and your time – making something that will make other parents feel one-upped, and your kids feel deprived of decent (in their minds) food! Forget the bento boxes (unless its literally one of those fruit, sandwich, yoghurt separate containers), focus on giving them healthy food that they’ll be happy to eat. Seriously.

4. Wine- Hang On A Second….

There is nothing quite like a cold glass of white wine in the evening, served with dinner or as a relaxing interlude into your evening where the stress will just melt away. If you’re an adult, above the legal age of alcohol consumption of course. (Let’s not mention anything about hypothetical teenagers discovering the joys of cheap German-brand-Supermarket wine before said legal age). However, as a back to school essential, it is one that certainly raises an eyebrow.

If aimed at the teachers, then yes, this is perfectly understandable. After a summer free of rote learning and unimpressed children/teenagers, a cold glass or three in the evenings may be a necessary addition to getting back into the spirit of things. If aimed at the parents; it should likely have been a “School is Out!” campaign, though some will certainly be feeling the longing after dealing with the difficult juggle in the morning of getting everyone out of the door on time.

However, since most Back To School campaigns are aimed at the students themselves, it’s safe to assume that this perhaps is another example of a marketing executive who may have gone rogue. Tesco’s “Back To School” section has included in the carefully categorised “mums and dads” section a selection of discounted wines- an integral part of the process perhaps? It might make getting through endless readings of English readers and altercations with spelling boxes a little easier I guess!

Thankfully in this house, we’re preparation free this year. I think moving house is enough of a trial in itself! When the time comes, I’m fairly sure that none of the above will be gracing our must-have-for-back to school lists. If you’re looking for some actual sound advice on preparing for school and general back to school essentials tips, you should check out my roundup of the best advice from other parenting bloggers who have been there, done that and paid for the ridiculously expensive crested uniform jumper (then watched yoghurt get spilled on it instantly). Hopefully between the lot of them with their massive wealth of experience, any questions you’ve got will be answered!

Let me know in the comments what you think about these Back to School Essentials lists. What is the craziest thing you’ve seen on one? What do you think needs to be on every list for someone heading into the classroom? Join the conversation and let me know in the comments below!


  1. Fake tan for back to school?? Must be targeting secondary school kids (or maybe some mothers?) but it’s only forcing young girls to feel like they must look a certain way to fit in. Ridiculous marketing.

  2. Hahaha oh boy, not sure what people have been drinking but I must say back to school essentials have changed big time since I was last in school what happened to books and pens lol. I want wine though

  3. I am cringing for Dunnes stores. Fake tan? really? And who in their minds buys a €825 white shirt for the school run? unless it is only for the school run…sigh. Maybe I’m in the wrong target bracket for BT anyway.

  4. Love this. Why parents need ‘back to school’ things I have no idea. Ive seen so many aimed at kids with lists of stationery and products – as a former teacher I can pretty much guarantee that as long as secondary kids have basic stationery that is all they need!

  5. Yes! I agree with the wine, sounds like a good essential item to me. White tops & fake tan for the school run is not gonna happen. My white top would be covered in assorted goop from the kids before getting to the school. Very funny post hun x

  6. What mum EVER wears white shirts on a school run. Honestly! As for that fake tan, i can see why September is a good month to market it, summer’s over/prolong your tan and all that, but to connect it with school is just plain irresponsible

  7. I LOVE the idea of the Bento boxes-but who has TIME to do that? I’ve heard of parents making the childs sandwich and then using biscuit cutters to cut it into shapes for a special treat, though. That’s a nice quick tip!

    1. See, that I can understand, that’s a nice treat. Something that likes more like a meccano kit than lunch, not so much! Thanks for commenting!

  8. Brilliant! Who on earth came up with tan as an essential for back to school?! Up here it’s thick black tights and non existent skirts, so that’d be wasted on them!

  9. Haha but a fashionable white top AND a fake tan? Not a good idea lol. Bento box lunches are cute but who’s got that kinda time? 🙂

    xoxo, Sam |

  10. Oh my goodness I loved reading this… I have often wondered about some questionable back to school sales. As a teacher I have to say I do love a good back to school wine! haha!

    1. Definitely think if it was more definitely marketed towards teachers they would be on to a winner!

  11. This cracks me up! I feel like back to school,is almost as bad as Christmas for companies trying to sell you stuff!!!

    1. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I’m still laughing at the coronary our Home Ec teacher would have had if we wore fake tan….

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