Music

How To Pull Off An MGK-Inspired Look Without Breaking The Bank

Within 40 seconds of Tickets To My Downfall, Machine Gun Kelly’s Travis Barker-backed No. 1 album, I could feel my carefully mismatched nail polish chipping itself in elation.

Any fellow hyper-studious Blink-182 historian has plenty to obsess over here with regards to the structural choices behind much of the album’s 15-track journey (21 if you count the deluxe edition), but unfairly labeling this new chapter of MGK’s catalog as an example of “throwback”-centered reinvention tactics does the songs — and the accompanying aesthetic — a disservice.

The reason the TTMD chapter feels so natural is due in large part to MGK, Barker, and everyone else involved having successfully tapped into the simple but effective power of taking elements from something familiar and repurposing them for a new era.

“Genres don’t matter no more,” MGK said back in August when accepting his very first MTV Video Music Award. “Don’t let them box you in.”

This mantra of sorts — built on a balance of old and new, familiar and modern — is also carried across the keen style choices of MGK and his inner circle.

But if you’re on a mid-lockdown journey to further develop or even entirely overhaul your own aesthetic, don’t assume that using MGK’s TTMD era as inspiration means you have to backflip into debt or move mountains of Blink-sized cash to reboot your wardrobe.

Below, we’ve broken down a selection of key components of this look, complete with insight from frequent MGK collaborators MOD SUN and Nathan James, as well as some sound advice from Toronto-based designer Lindsay MacDonald.

Black On Black

On the cover of TTMD, MGK is seen rocking a plain black t-shirt atop an unassuming long-sleeve. The pants, though skinny, are tastefully not of the skin-tight variety and mildly wad up perfectly over the tops of a longtime punk staple, a pair of what appears to be Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

A pair of comparable Converse will run you $55 straight from the official brand site, while Converse-inspired canvas hi-tops can provide a strikingly similar look for roughly half the price.

As for the top, everyone from H&M to ASOS to (for an even more budget-friendly alternative) Walmart offers plain black t-shirts. To appropriately up the punx with 2020 in mind, consider sizing up (though not too much) and adding a few random holes and tears along the bottom seam line or even near the neck.

For the long-sleeve layer, an understated color choice like the one seen on the TTMD cover is a wise choice, but don’t be afraid to go bolder. Once again, finding a basic example of this isn’t difficult, though — for both the short and long-sleeve layers — a more conscious approach to acquiring this look can be achieved by hitting up your local thrift stores. Fast fashion, of course, is problematic. And even if a well-worn black t-shirt has a logo on the front, consider lopping off the tag and just rocking it inside out.

For the pants, consider sizing super-skinny options up a bit for extra room and a more 2020-minded silhouette. For this writer, a budget-friendly approach is to find a reasonably priced pair that you absolutely love and — though there might be naysayers for this advice — rock them damn near every single day. Skinny or generally closer-fitting bottoms are not hard to come by, with one of many wallet-friendly options including this pair of COLLUSION super-skinnies (knee rip included) for $24.

Asked for his take on how crucial it is to absolutely nail an album cover aesthetic, “Battle Ship” artist and TTMD photographer Nathan James shares some advice that also applies to absolutely nailing one’s personal style.

“Never take shortcuts, always go the extra mile,” James says, noting how integral it is for an aesthetic to send out the intended message.

“Any time you can kind of let the listener know what your album is about without actually saying it and just showing it in a picture, that’s always a win,” James adds.

And the same is true for the proverbial cover art of the self, your wardrobe.

Refrain From Shirts With Brand Names On Them

Sure, the Take Off Your Pants And Jacket years of the Blink legacy are particularly rife with photos of Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus rocking Atticus and Macbeth logos, while Travis Barker was keen on the still-very-active Famous Stars and Straps. But those were brands helmed by the members themselves, i.e. a commendable flex, not to mention the MGK approach is largely averse to in-your-face branding.

As touched on above, it’s arguably more creatively fulfilling to stick with pieces that can be easily adapted with homemade alterations. You can even dabble in fabric paint, which goes for as little as $22 on Amazon for a well-reviewed assortment. And “basics” shouldn’t be viewed as a dirty word, as “basic” doesn’t have to mean plain. Take it from MGK, who often works in some flair by way of the design or color of a visually brandless top.

If you’re comfortable showing a dash or three of chest, these two button-based pieces from H&M — both under $20 — are squarely within the MGKiverse. For something more cozy-minded, give this ASOS DESIGN textured knit a try, perhaps in a size up and with homemade rips. Though pricier at $48, this is the sort of piece that could be worn as many times a week as you like with minor aesthetic tweaks in the form of, say, nails (more on that later).

Or, for the decidedly tongue-in-cheek and most admirable approach, simply take a logoless t-shirt and write out the brand name of your choice, a la Stephan Jenkins:

Be Selective With Bagginess

“Fit is something that can quickly make clothing look extremely dated,” Lindsay MacDonald, owner and designer of @lindevilapparel, cautions. With “pop-punk fashion,” for example, MacDonald notes that bands like Blink and New Found Glory were famously fond in the ’00s of wearing “very baggy, oversized pants and shorts.” The MGK approach, however, ditches this for modernization.

“Instead, he generally continues to wear skinny jeans and other closer fitting bottoms,” MacDonald says. “He does, however, wear Converse shoes, layered tops, and brightly colored t-shirts. I believe he knows that adding the baggy pants would look a bit dated, and would probably make an entire outfit look costume-y instead of current. He cherry-picks what elements will still work for him today.”

Of course, MGK didn’t invent this. Influential examples of this silhouette have been a fixture, for example, in the fairly recent wardrobe choices of the Marilyn Manson-influenced Lil Uzi Vert, the versatility-championing Young Thug, and more.

In terms of how this balanced bagginess affects the proposal of rocking the same pair of pants on the daily, keeping your choice more rooted in a tailored or generally close-cutting form allows for one’s choice of footwear to properly shine without getting overly draped (or wholly covered) in excess fabric. While Converse is well-represented on the TTMD cover, tracking down an all-black pair of combat-esque boots — which, like the pants, can become a daily staple — is also a worthy excursion.

While a pair from the decades-strong Dr. Martens brand can land on the pricier side, your local department store (or again, your local thrift shop) could offer some comparable alternatives, including this pair of Bruno Marc combat oxfords starting at $35.99.

Embrace The Pink

To put it as mildly as possible, pink f*cking rules.

Like the pink Fender bass of Mark Hoppus’ Blink tour arsenal before it, MGK has made his album title-emblazoned pink guitar a prominent piece in the TTMD story. The color also makes frequent appearances across the album’s marketing, from livestream show flyers to his viral IG-shared mockery of anyone who possesses the unfortunate and wholly embarrassing opinion that the color itself is somehow tied to gender or any other arbitrary attempted classifier (it’s not).

As with the easily procured black t-shirts, you can choose to sprinkle in some pink by going the simple route of a pink t-shirt, either with or without some after-market tweaks of your own. Whether neon pink or a more subdued iteration of the color are your bag, most (if not all) shades are widely available. Here’s a pink Hanes t-shirt, size-up recommended, starting at $6.

Another way of praising the power of the pink is to put it even further front and center with a dangly-sleeved sweater, like this $29 oversized rollneck from ASOS, preferably with some of those self-administered tears. It’s also advised to ignore the brand-assigned “gender” of any piece of clothing or accessory, as none of that even remotely matters.

Of course, you can also choose to stick to a more strictly black-on-black wardrobe while letting your hair do the work. The Good Dye Young brand, co-founded by Hayley Williams, offers a cruelty-free approach to semi-permanent pink starting at $18.

And lest we forget, naked nails are a snore, so why not throw some pink on them. Better yet, go for a more abstract creation, which leads us to one of the most attainable ways of ensuring uniqueness on a planet of lemmings.

Use Your Nails As An Extended Canvas

Don’t let the mockery of a certain Wall Street Journal piece from back in October twist it up for you. Nail art, be it complicated mini-pieces on each nail or simply goth-ing out with matte black on each finger, is a longstanding fixture among artists looking for a quick and DIY-friendly way of keeping the potential monotony of the day-to-day at bay.

While longtime followers of Barker’s work with Blink who were around to see the band’s rise to prominence in real time will no doubt recall TRL era Carson Daly’s every-other-nail method, as well as DeLonge’s own temporary fondness for black polish, more recent punk-adjacent converts are more likely to have seen artful nails put to good use by everyone from Bad Bunny to ASAP Rocky to Harry Styles to the late Lil Peep.

The MGK method, meanwhile, can range from presumably-done-by-a-professional (i.e. somewhat pricey) examples of complicated tributes to Jack Skellington to more easily-done-at-home designs consisting of a variety of colors occasionally complemented by hand-drawn letters spelling out various messages.

The nails are key, in part, because it allows for anyone who may not be in a position to buy a new outfit an equally creative path to bring a fresh look together while spending much less money.

For me, Sinful Colors is an easy-to-find and reliable maker of a wide assortment of colors and designs that often go for under two dollars:

For quick nail jobs, you can always go the “instadry” route.

And Don’t Forget The Neck

It brings me great pleasure to inform you that Amazon does indeed offer an upside-down cross pendant and accompanying chain for just $9.

But if that sentiment of glorious godlessness isn’t your cup of existential tea, neck adornment options are plentiful.

Basic — again, not a dirty word — semi-chunky silver chains are something you can wear regardless of the color of your top. As for length, at least for this aesthetic, keep the chain a little closer to your neck than seen in more dangle-centered approaches where larger pieces are meant to be the focus. Over on Amazon, you can get a chain in your choice of length and chunkiness starting at $6.98. H&M also has a basic semi-chunky silver chain for $9.99.

If you’re up for it, you can even go the full-blown choker route with this under-10-bucks piece from ASOS.

You can also go with a look frequented by MGK in recent months: white pearl-esque neckwear of a tasteful size and fit that pops particularly well against black and pink. If you’re lucky, this is the sort of piece for which similar alternatives could be found at your local thrift store.

Most importantly, make your Self (capital S intended!) the attraction. And don’t get stuck in the practice of total emulation.

For MGK and many others from his generation, including this particular writer, punk—in the broadest possible definition of the term—provided a gateway at a young age to a place where we could experiment with our image and feel not just comfortable being ourselves, but celebrated. So it’s only fitting, and honestly kind of touching, for someone like MGK to come full circle with a project that both nods to those gateway years while reinventing them as a new gateway for another generation.

In that spirit, you could do a lot worse than using the MGKiverse as a jumping off point for your own journey toward expression—whatever that means for you. As MacDonald explains, looking up to someone like MGK for inspiration on that journey is “a great idea,” though the ultimate goal is to start defining which elements work for you while tossing out the ones that don’t.

“If you’re someone who is currently trying to figure out your personal style, try not to get frustrated with the process,” MacDonald says. “It doesn’t just happen, you have to consciously think about it and put effort in over time, slowly altering and collecting new pieces as you go. It’s not a destination but a journey. Your personal style will change and evolve as you grow. It is a reflection of who you are, what you do, and how you think at that period in time.”

For MOD SUN, who earlier this year directed MGK’s mini-movie for “Concert For Aliens” and just this month tapped MGK to direct his “Karma” video, the evolution of one’s personal style can often include changes that are measurable from one day to the next.

“My personal style changes every day,” the co-director of MGK’s upcoming musical, described as a “pop-punk Grease,” says. “I wake up and dress how I feel without sticking to any one specific style. My whole aesthetic is based on my respect for designers. I literally study them and I’ve collected a lot of really incredible pieces over the years. I like to mix those with stuff you can get at the corner store. Clothes are like paintings and the way they fit is like architecture.”

Growing up, MOD adds, he was inspired by the “f*ck the world” attitude of the iconic Vivienne Westwood.

In short, pulling together a working-class version of any look — whether personally inspired by MGK or not — is most assuredly punk as f*ck.

BONUS: The Story Behind The Cover Art For Tickets to My Downfall

Though assuming the brand-reinforcing cover shot was the result of careful planning and meticulous wardrobe curation is understandable, the actual story behind it reveals another facet that’s crucial to building one’s own unique take on a punk-inspired 2020 avatar: trusting the truth of the moment. As both creative director MOD SUN and photographer Nathan James explained in interviews with Uproxx, the cover went through multiple iterations before an act of fourth-quarter spontaneity birthed the now-ubiquitous TTMD calling card.

“I helped put it all together,” MOD SUN recalls. “I knew the photographer and that morning we shot it, there was special weather that day, so we woke up at noon and knew we had to shoot it again even though we had already shot three other covers [MGK] didn’t like.”

James had even more insight into the multiple sessions that ultimately resulted in the cover with which fans are now familiar. At first, James says, he was brought in at the last minute to reshoot the cover after it was discovered that the original idea — a drawing — had “some copyright issues” preventing the release from moving forward.

“It was already a drawing that was, like, used before and someone had copied it so it needed to be reshot,” James says. From there, he quickly made his way over to MGK’s house. After shooting, he and the team believed they had what they needed for both the front and back covers, though MGK would ultimately make a judgment call just one day later about giving it all another go.

“And so we don’t really know what we’re gonna shoot,” James says. “I drive to his house and I know we have one hour and we don’t really know what we’re gonna shoot and MOD SUN is just going around, I guess, just thinking of ideas and he’s so creative and he’s phenomenal with creative direction and everything. And he’s like ‘Yo bro, what if we just use the pool and shoot in the pool?’ And we’re like ‘Fuck yeah! That would be sick!’ So we go down there, we start to take a bunch of photos in the pool, and then — next thing you know — we kind of were reviewing some of the photos and he had a lighter colored shirt on at first and it just blended too much in with the pool background so he threw on that black shirt with the long sleeve underneath and then we started taking pics. We’re showing him some stuff and as I was showing him on the camera he, like, stops and is like ‘Boom, that one, that’s the one, we got it, we’re done!’”

Speaking on the importance of shooting an album cover as many times as it takes to capture the spirit of the songs, James continues:

“The first cover that we thought was the cover — which was [a] headshot — that did not express, like, this album as punk rock, you know? It was just too editorial and we needed something that really expressed, like, ‘Yo, you’re about to listen to something super punk,’” James, a photographer and artist whose own Rook-featuring new single is out this month, says. The final product, James adds, “nailed down” exactly what the listener could expect with the album.

“I’m a huge rock head myself so I was so happy that I could be a part of shooting the No. 1 album cover in the world,” James says. “When we shot this, obviously, we didn’t know that. But it just makes it that much more iconic knowing that, you know, rock is coming back and Machine Gun Kelly was a huge staple of the movement happening.”

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