May Death Never Stop You: The Eras of My Chemical Romance As Told By Gerard Way’s Style Evolution | The Sound of Style
This band changed my life forever. For those among us that have yet to delve into the world of My Chemical Romance (or perhaps feared that they’d find themselves wearing guyliner and black jackets even in the summer upon doing so), then I can assure you that’s almost definitely not what will happen. Instead, I encourage you to give them a listen with a bit more of an open mind. I’ll drop my usual recommendations at the bottom of this article, but in short, there’s more to the band than just black hair dye and makeup. At least, there was, until they broke up in 2013...but we’re not gonna talk about that right now...
Each of the band’s members is individually one of the most creative guys in whatever room they’re in, and that is hardly more true than when taking a look at their frontman, Gerard Way. Gerard and I have a few things in common, not the least of which is that we both love comics and come from New Jersey. That’s part of what connected me to the band so heavily in the first place, but it was Gerard’s openness about his mental health and struggles with addiction that really helped me latch onto him - that, and his debut comic, The Umbrella Academy, is absolutely incredible, and will be premiering as a Netflix series in the new year, so it’s safe to say the dude has a few different talents. But the thing that really drew me to Gerard was his style, and the way he carried himself. On stage, he was a dynamo of confidence and self-awareness, bending all the right rules and pushing all the right buttons. Off stage, he was just a normal dude, no more or less bombastic than the next guy, and who really just loved making whatever kind of art he could make. Something about that was easy to connect with, and his clothes over the years definitely tell much of that story. Without further ado, let’s get into some of those clothes by taking a look at the most iconic outfits from each of the band’s different eras.
The band’s first record, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, has perhaps one of the angstiest album titles of all time. It’s also a raw display of five dudes that knew they were gonna be a big freaking deal, and simply didn’t have the resources to show that off yet. It’s a rough record, full of stuff not being in key, including Gerard’s voice a handful of times, and really garbage mixing, and yet there’s a certain charm about it that’s unavoidable. The same can be said about their style at the time.
For Gerard, there was one constant uniform - black jeans, a black t-shirt of some kind, cherry red Doc Martens, and a black leather jacket. This uniform was constant, to be fair, because the guys were all functionally homeless at the time, living in their van and touring basically non-stop. I have heard horror stories about the state of that leather jacket by the time it finally went the way of the Dodo, but I’ll spare you that nightmare.
When it comes to affordable ways to achieve this look, the only thing that you might have any difficulty finding is a jacket similar to Gerard’s, as the t-shirt, jeans, and Docs are all pretty relatively available. The closest I’ve been able to find is this example from Milwaukee Leather, which comes in at about $140. Gerard’s jacket’s primary standout features are those rounded lapels and the button front - everything else is generally pretty standard.
This is the era of the band your parents warned you about. “Dangerous” was a word used to describe them here, in part because they were so avante-garde, and in part because they’d only just started to see real mainstream success with their second studio album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. It’s a classic among the genre, and its cover is even graced by some of Gerard’s artwork.
Aesthetically, the first part of the Revenge Era is a bit all over the place, as this was the bit of their careers when a) they still didn’t have a lot of money at first and b) Gerard’s substance abuse issues and mental health struggles were at their worst, so wardrobe wasn’t exactly a priority. Fast forward to the video shoot for their single, Helena, and each of the guys got to keep their costumes. Naturally, for a band as theatrical as My Chemical Romance, this meant turning them into their stage clothes. Getting this look really hinges on two things - the suit, and the willingness to embrace how funky the suit actually is.
The suit worn by Gerard is not actually a proper suit, but rather a velour jacket (in black, naturally) and a pair of pants that, though also velour, were taken from another suit entirely (I vaguely remember it being said that the pants were from a woman’s suit, hence the 70s style flare, but don’t quote me on that). To achieve this, my “professional” recommendation is going to be picking up a velvet-ish suit jacket or blazer (this one from Burlington Coat Factory should do the trick) and then another, wider cut in the leg pair of similar pants (these corduroy bell bottoms from Run & Fly Vintage should suit the job, despite being corded and not velvet). It’s definitely more of a Halloween costume look than anything particularly wearable on a daily basis, but still a bit of fun to play around with regardless.
The Black Parade:
Before you find yourself in a panic, don’t worry - I’m not gonna recommend to you the best way to replicate their costumes from this era. Still, the concept behind what is largely regarded as their best record, The Black Parade, is a dark and dour one that is equally uplifting - if you can get to the end of it. It centers around a character known only as “The Patient,” a man dying of cancer who is greeted in the moments that he passes by a marching band and a black parade (hence the title). It goes way deeper than that, but that’s the gist of it. Stylistically, though, there’s a look that Gerard donned near the end of the touring cycle for the record that I think is worth checking out.
Near the end of, and just after the end of, the Black Parade touring cycle, Gerard adopted a uniform that has become known as his “Teacher Gerard” aesthetic among the band’s fans. It’s kind of easy to see why - black vest, white dress shirt, striped tie, black jeans...it’s all very academic looking. What sets it apart from something that you might see Jon wearing, for example, is the kind of haphazardness of it all. The collar, for example, has started to curl, and the tie knot is slightly lopsided and definitely a bit loose. The belt buckle is huge, which is definitely not the kind of thing you’d expect to see with a shirt and tie. In another shot from this same shoot, you can see Gerard wearing a simple pair of black Converse Chuck Taylors, which is a look I have always been partial to myself, but I know plenty of people hate. It’s the kind of look that says “I tried, but this just so isn’t me,” and not only do I enjoy it aesthetically, but I relate to it in a big way. No recommendations for how to get this look, since I’m sure you could throw it together with what’s already in your wardrobe, but the next time you feel like overdressing when going out, maybe tone it back a bit like Gerard.
The album that would ultimately become the band’s last, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, is a pretty significant departure for My Chemical Romance. Gone is the black, the drab, the dreary, and in is color, synthesizers, and at least three Bowie references. Gerard even went fire engine red with his hair (again...he did it once when the band was younger). The album would go on to become a comic series of a similar name (naturally, written by Gerard), and spawned a series of music videos that depicted the story of the group of rebels known only as the Fabulous Killjoys. Also, Grant Morrison plays the bad guy...and we all love a bit of Grant and his bald head looking evil.
There are two key elements to nailing a Danger Days-esque outfit, since the black jeans and t-shirts aren’t difficult to come by. The first is the leather jacket, which can be seen in this section’s header. Its original maker isn’t particularly clear, however some of its most defining characteristics are just how wrinkly and unstructured it looks, along with the quilted pattern on the shoulders. It’s a traditional motorcycle style in terms of cut, length, and the shape of the lapels, and the zip. The other key characteristic of the look is the boots, and we actually have a positive ID on those right from the manufacturer: The Lewis Leathers 177 Road Racer. Gerard calls them his “Han Solo boots,” and it’s easy to see why - these are motorcycle boots made by a company with serious heritage in that genre, and look like they could handle a few separate lifetimes of wear with proper maintenance. However, they’re also roughly $550 USD, so attainable for many, they are not. What kinds of alternatives do we have then?
For the jacket, we have the AllSaints Leather Biker Jacket in black, naturally. While I can’t be 100% sure this is actually a variation of the jacket worn by Gerard, especially since Lewis Leathers does offer some similar looking jackets of their own, it is definitely as close as one is likely to get. Sure, at $373, it isn’t exactly cheap, but a similar one from Lewis Leathers would cost you just shy of $1k, so all things considered, it might still be a value prop in its own right. As for those boots, after digging for probably way too long through pages upon pages of search results, I ended up right back where I started - the Harley Davidson Bowden, a motorcycle boot with more heritage in its heel than most “motorcycle boots” have in their entire shape. Okay, that was a garbage metaphor, but point being, I’ve seen a few good pairs of these things get run into the ground and bounce back just fine, and they’re perfectly suited for everything except formal wear or business casual, depending on the office environment at any rate. I would even wear them with a shirt and chinos, but that’s just me.
So, something that I should probably own up to from now - this is actually only part one of two articles discussing Gerard’s style evolution. In part two, we’re going to dive into Gerard’s post-MCR stylistic choices, including his life in the world of writing comic books for DC. Before then, though, I’ll leave you with this - my picks for the four best My Chemical Romance songs, one from each of their major studio albums (in order).
Skylines & Turnstiles (Attic Demo Version) - THIS is the very first thing My Chemical Romance ever recorded. Written and put to tape within a matter of days, if memory serves, of Gerard bearing witness to the devastating September 11th attacks, the song is visceral, emotional, and captures perfectly the blueprint of the band they would become.
The Ghost of You - As incredible as this song is, as powerful as its chorus is, it is ultimately the video for The Ghost of You that sells the sheer unbridled loss and heartache of this song.
Famous Last Words - This is the epic finale of The Black Parade, and its chorus is so f**king powerful, that I’m probably going to get it tattooed on me at some point. ‘Nuff said.
Summertime - Sure, it’s what ultimately amounts to Gerard singing a cute love song to his wife, but there’s just something so honest about it that I think a lot of other love songs, even in the genre, just miss while they’re busily hiding behind the next great metaphor. This song has no time for any of that.
Other Articles in the “Sound of Style Series” by Logan Hannen