Though elementary school offers possibly the most free time for self-expression, it also sadly encompasses a population with very little self to express. However, there is still room to distinguish oneself socially, particularly by exploiting the unstated hierarchies of the school lunchroom/ outdoor semi-covered area of filthy picnic tables.
Brown Bags: No matter how cool the licensed illustration of cartoon characters, or the tremendous nostalic kitsch value it may attain by the time you are in college, there is no excuse for retaining a plastic or tin ThermosTM-brand lunch box after first grade. Immediately demand disposable, resource-wasting brown paper bags.
Soda: Though there is nothing essentially wrong with Hi-C, and a Capri Sun straw stuck in the bottom of the awkwardly-shaped packaging instead of the dot in the “I” can speak volumes about your rebellious streak, nothing quite matches the status gained by being the kid with the actual can of soda. Dude, your parents give you soda to bring to school!
Buying Lunch: While the soda rule is not to be disregarded, the practice of buying lunch daily far surpasses any gains from the use of Brown Bags, whose sole purpose is merely to avoid ridicule. A student whose parents trust him with several dollars a day is clearly luckier, cooler, and more independent than the student whose parents lovingly hand-craft a nutritious sandwich each day.
Recess: The sooner you finish eating and skip out to play, the better. If you are male, remember this: Kickball, handball, tetherball, and all activities ending in “-ball” equal Good. Sitting and reading by yourself near the kindergarten playground equals Sad.
Middle School advice current as of 6-10-94; may not be applicable today.
Backpacks: Crucial to any middle- or even high-school attempt to project coolness is the proper usage of the backpack. Straps must be at maximum looseness, allowing the backpack to hang just over the buttocks. Using only one strap is preferred. Coolness is inversely proportional to the tightness of the straps and number of straps used. Use of the optional third “buckle” strap around the waist is especially frowned upon, and is often grounds for ridicule from even the least-discerning of social cliques. The more tightly a backpack is worn, the heavier it is assumed to be, and thus, the more “work” the student is assumed to be doing.
The Devolution of Flannel: Popularized by the grunge movement, flannels enjoyed a brief period as a hip countercultural garment worn by the cynical, lazy, and disaffected. However, the fashion was so widely accessible, and easily mimicked that nerds quickly picked up on it, and the coolness of flannel ended almost before it had started. To this day, people engaging in such activities such as computer programming and comic-book-reading continue to wear flannel, due to their failure to recognize its co-opting by a culture of losers such as themselves, as well as their refusal to buy new clothes. (Not applicable in Seattle.)
StarterTM Parkas: Popular all over, but especially prestigious in California, where the excessive warmth of a comically balloonish, over-padded parka renders it totally impractical for everyday use. Wear it all the time anyway, even with shorts! And get one with the San Jose Sharks logo. Boy, that shark looks mean!
Popping Nike Airs: “No, really, they’re more comfortable this way.” Just stick a knife or pencil into the exposed air windows on the side of your shoes and listen for the cool popping noise. Then wait two days for the soles to collapse into the now-hollow air bladders, leaving you with no cushioning at all. Purchase new shoes with parents’ money. Repeat. The comfort factor is a load of crap, but the true value lies in destroying your own expensive property while everyone else watches. Aces!