I liek getting cool looking stuff, but would much prefer to avoid the "raid" mentality in elites if possible.
I am not certain what you mean by 'raid mentality'. So I assume you just want to avoid fools idiots and people who talk excrement. Well the only way to avoid these people is to unplug your internet. That said I have done enough STFs that my accolades no longer keep track of them, and I have to say normals attract much lower quality puglets then elites do.
Pugs will always have a chance to contain people you would rather not play with but I have found they are less frequent in elite STFs. All you have to do is research the accepted strategy for each one before you enter it, (ask in zone chat, read the forums or the wiki) and not use multiple damage types (some people like nothing better then to rage at rainbow boats). So long as you do these two things your group isn't likely to have a problem with you.
I highly recommend competent players do elite STFs exclusively. The rewards are better, the chance of having a better pug is better, the challenge will make you a better player and normal content will never feel challenging again.
the Mk X gear has no visuals at all. The Mk XI gear is the upper, lower, gloves, boots and belt. and the Mk XII (elite) gear has the helmet. But once season 7 gets here you'll be able to "buy" Mk XII gear without actually doing elites. hope that helps
sorry, what i meant was you won't actually have to do GROUND ELITES