When Mary Janes were first introduced in the early 1900s and came into popularity in the 1920s, they were solely the property of infants, toddlers, and young girls.
Little girl’s Mary Jane shoes
The flat sole and the rounded toe were perfect for little children’s feet and the single buckled strap helped keep the shoe in place. Black patent leather was the material they were traditionally made out of but some styles, such as the one in the picture above, had bows and ribbons for decoration.
Mary Janes looked adorable on children.
Of course, it didn’t take long before women started wondering if Mary Janes would look as good on them as well, so little by little, the grown-up version of the Mary Jane shoe started to evolve.
Vintage 1970s snake skin Mary Janes (image from LuvUnlimited.com)
Here we see a vintage pair from the 70s. This fashionable pair features laces instead of a buckle strap. The toe is also somewhat squared and the 2″-high heel, although square and stable, is already too high for any young child to wear.
Courtney Love as the lead vocalist and guitarist for Hole
The Mary Janes made a big comeback in the 90s when they were glamorized by grunge bands like Hole. Wearing Mary Janes with pale-hued baby doll dresses while belting out rock tunes on stage, Courtney Love was the embodiment of the Lolita fashion that was popular in the 90s. Grown women dressed in Lolita fashion by wearing petticoats, stockings, blouses, and other “cute” clothes. Obviously the Mary Jane shoe, which was borrowed from the kids, played a crucial role in achieving this look.
Fast forward to present and we see the Mary Jane shoe undergo a major haute couture transformation.
Luxury brand shoe designers like Christian Louboutin have turned Mary Janes into not just exclusive for-women-only shoes, but also into highly sought after red carpet footwear:
Jessica Alba and husband Cash Warren at the Cinema Society and Dolce and Gabbana Host A Screening of “Filth And Wisdom” The Landmark Sunshine Theater – Arrivals New York City, USA – October 13, 2008
Madchen Amick at the premiere of the NBC show “Own Worst Enemy” held at Craft Century City, California (October 4, 2008), Sophie Ellis-Bextor at the British Fashion Awards – outside arrivals held at Lawrence Hall London, England (November 25, 2008)
The single buckle strap has doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled, like on Christina Ricci’s shoes. The toe has become pointed and the heel is recklessly thin and dangerously high.
Credit: Dimitri Halkidis/WENN