Mary Janes

AKA: 

How to say it: mair-ee  jeyns

Traditional Features: 

Mary Janes

  • traditionally has a blunt toe shape
  • strap over the instep that buckles or clips onto the side of the shoe
  • can be any height

21st Century Mary Janes

The modern Mary Jane has many faces, heeled, flat, platform; pointed, square or round toe – the style has certainly evolved from the youthful styles of the early 1900s. However, the defining characteristic, the strap, has remained steady throughout the decades and continues to do so in the 21st century, whatever the rest of the shoe looks like.

Christian Louboutin Manolo Blahnik

Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik

Miu Miu Topshop

Miu Miu, Topshop

Origins…

…of the style: Believe it or not, the Mary Jane shoe began as a men’s style – paintings from the Renaissance show King Henry VIII wearing a pair and photos from Imperial China also show men wearing the style. The modern version appeared in the early 1900s on the pages of the comic Buster Brown – Mary Jane was the sweetheart of the main character Buster. In 1904 the author of the comic, Richard F. Outcault, sold licences for the strip to 200 companies, including the Brown Shoe Company, who began to make the low-heeled, snub-toed shoe with the iconic strap across the foot.

The style was initially a huge hit with young boys and girls, but grown women soon took to the shoe and it became popular throughout the 1920s, with ornate, hand-painted versions appearing on dance floors, while plain versions were worn as every-day shoes.

The style evolved in the 50s, adopting a pointed toe and higher heel, before returning to a more original styling in the late 60s and 70s. This return to the flatter, rounded styling was aided by the ‘Little Girl’ trend that appeared on the catwalk. The look was apparently started by Mary Quant dressing Twiggy in a baby-doll smock and black Mary-Jane tap shoes, and continued by designers like Dior, Courreges and Yves Saint Laurent who featured the style in their collections.

The popularity of the Mary Jane lost out to the pump in the 80s but had a major resurgence in the 1990s. The 90s versions came in all shapes and sizes – flat, heeled, platform, round-toe, pointed, square-toe, chunky, slim-line and everything in-between. One of the most famous fans of the Mary Jane during this time was Courtney Love who favoured chunky, black versions worn as part of her grungy interpretation of the 60s baby-doll look.

Since then the Mary Jane has maintained a constant presence on the women’s footwear market in various versions, evolving with the trends and staying in the forefront of fashion. In the 21st century there is an abundance of options available for the modern woman who craves the iconic strapped look – it is a versatile and classic shoe, and now that it has stepped out of the ‘little girl shoe’ shadow, there is no end to the design opportunities for the style, and this is what will keep the Mary Jane in the fashion limelight for many years to come.

…of the name: The shoes were named after the character Mary Jane in the Buster Brown comic who wore the now iconic style.

For more info on Mary Janes try The Independent, Circa Vintage, Victoria McGinley or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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3 thoughts on “Mary Janes

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