Students seek ways to look good and stay uniqueIn 1998, The Daily Astorian adopted the Class of 2008 at John Jacob Astor Elementary School as part of a project following our youth through graduation.

A story on these seventh-grade students, now at Astoria Middle School, appears occasionally.The seventh-grade image battle rages in the Astoria Middle School cafeteria, where children consume fashion like breaded chicken with ketchup.

"The way you are is the way you dress," seventh-grader Katie Beck says from inside a red Roxy sweatshirt. "We're not fashion fanatics. We just care about what we wear."

The Daily Astorian began following the group of students while they were cute third-graders at John Jacob Astor Elementary. Now Class of 2008 students are in the seventh grade and their minds are turning to the fashion front.

"If it fits good and it looks good, then it's pretty OK," Katie says. "If you like it, it doesn't really matter what other people think ... How do you express yourself when you're not your own person?"

Astoria Middle School Counselor Donna Carson says children coping with the insecurities of puberty often turn to fashion.

"They may not like what they see in the mirror in the morning, but your clothes can be controlled," she says. "The kids are making more of their own choices."

The seventh-graders are becoming individuals, she says. They strive to be different - often dyeing their hair every color of the rainbow.

While Katie says she would dye her hair purple like one girl in school, she appreciates the individuality.

"They're individuals, too," she says.

The object is to wear clothing others aren't wearing, seventh-grader Anthony Kustura says.

"If you're trying to be an individual, why would you copy anyone else?" Anthony asks. "When you think about clothes, you try to buy other things that people won't have, like you try to stand out. ... Last year, I was the only one with a denim jacket and now everyone has them."

The students are in a stage between child and high school clothes, but they know what they like. They have strong and conflicting opinions about fashion.

Green camouflage should be limited to Afghanistan, but bright blue and pink camouflage should be allowed at school, pajama pants should be confined to the bedroom, and frilly clothing should stay on the shelves. But as students make rules about fashion, they also break them.

"I care more about how I look," Katie explains. "I'm not gonna wear a Pooh Bear shirt to school."

"Ahhh!" shouts Katie's friend Lynnae Huber, also a Class of 2008 student.

Giggling, Lynnae tugs at Katie's sweatshirt, until it zips down a little and she begins counting off the characters from the Winnie the Pooh stories: "Tigger. Eeyore. Piglet."

"That's Disney," Katie asserts. The blonde girl reddens in the cheeks. "Disney is cool."

Kids also test the limit of acceptability. Seventh-grader Eddy Duret says he wore a pick in his afro hair the first day back from school to try something new.

"People told me to do it," Eddy says.

He says he saw his cousins, who live in Florida, wearing picks and he wanted to try it. Most of the other kids seemed to think it was a cool expression of individuality, but Eddy says he's not sure if he'll wear the pick again.

"They all want to dress uniquely from their age groups," says Micki Caskey, an associate Portland State University professor, who specializes in middle school education. "But they also want to wear the same as their friends ... They all want to wear Old Navy but they all wear different colors."

Jake Savage, 12, says he became interested in fashion in grade school, but in middle school he became fashion savvy.

Katie Beck folds a sweater vest that she says she hardly ever wears. Beck, a seventh grader at Astoria Middle School, says her style includes comfortable clothes."You've grown smarter and you know what you look bad in and you know what you look good in," he said. "You kind of have, like, a favorite color to wear."

Jake says he wore a shirt with broad plaid stripes when he was younger. Now, he would never wear that. Instead he's transitioned to shirts with thin plaid stripes.

When he shops with his mom, he says their tastes differ.

"She just looks at stuff and asks my opinion of it, but I'll usually be in a totally different section," he said. "She's usually in the church kind of clothes section."

Caskey says children often spend middle school asserting independence from their parents.

"If their mother touches an outfit in the store," she says, they will not want to wear it. "They want to pick their own clothes and shop with their friends. The only thing they want from their parents is the financial support."

Students Lynnae, Katie and Anthony say they browse shops once or twice a week. When their parents are grocery shopping at the North Coast Fred Meyer, the kids often will veer to the children's section. Kustura says styles in magazines sometimes influence his style.

According to A.C. Nielsen Co., people watch an average four hours of television per day, which equals about two nonstop months of television per year. The average child watches between 20,000 and 30,000 30-second television commercials per year, according to Washington, D.C.-based TV Turnoff Network.

"When you're, like, in the grocery story like Safeway and you look at the newsstand at the magazines and you look at the cover, you could be like, 'Oh I could do that with some of my clothes,'" Anthony says. "And you might copy, but in some ways you might not."

Lynnae's mother, Karen Huber, says each of her four children eventually rejected her ideas about fashion.

"I could tell she wouldn't wear the clothes I picked out anymore," she says. "I think they get it from other kids at school."

Caskey says the assertions of independence are normal and parents must remember to be flexible.

Lynnae has a job and often buys clothing with her money, but her parents still buy most of her clothing.

"She's not going to show you ruffles," her mom explains. "Anything with a sports symbol ... She's very tom-girl."

Lynnae says she's interested in sports so she wears sporty clothing. She says she tries to maintain her individuality by wearing clothing that other people don't wear.

"People get a first impression about what we wear, " Lynnae says.

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