Mary Jane Shoes: Timeless Classics with a Modern Twist

Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates from Your Next Shoes. This post may contain affiliate links. Please see our disclosure for more details.

The classic Mary Jane shoe is easily identifiable: a low-cut, closed leather shoe with a strap over the top of the foot and fastened either by a buckle, a button, or Velcro. It has a thin outsole or very low heel.

Also called bar or doll shoes, Mary Janes are usually associated with children’s school or formal shoes.

Since its inception in the early 20th century, this unisex shoe is still as fashionable as ever among kids and adults, but primarily among women.

Perhaps you are a fan of these shoes, which is great. Not only is it chic, versatile, and deeply embedded in popular culture, but it has also never run out of style and has even evolved into a variety of styles.

As a tribute to the Mary Jane shoes, let’s dive into the origins of these shoes, how to wear them, and most importantly, where to buy gorgeous ones!

A Brief History of Mary Jane Shoes: Timeline

1902 – A comic strip called Buster Brown, drawn by R.F. Outcault, was first published in the New York Herald. The character Buster Brown has a sister named Mary Jane, and they both sport classic bar shoes.

1904 – Outcault sold licenses of his Buster Brown characters to various companies, including the Brown Shoe Company, an American footwear company. They created a girls’ line of shoes, similar to that in the comic strip, and called it Mary Jane shoes!

The 1920s – The shoes became desirable to women, and the “grown-up” Mary Jane shoes also became dancing shoes in the Roaring Twenties— usually in sophisticated hand-painted designs and made of silk satins.

The 1930s – Mary Jane became a big hit among girls in North America. When child star Shirley Temple donned a pair in Harry Lachman’s 1934 drama-comedy Baby, Take a Bow, Mary Janes skyrocketed to fame.

Mary Janes boomed in the 1930s after little Shirley Temple wore a pair in Baby, Take a Bow movieMary Janes boomed in the 1930s after little Shirley Temple wore a pair in Baby, Take a Bow movie

The 1940s – 1960s – The Mary Jane shoes’ popularity crossed continents, and European girls also began clamoring for them.

In the sixties, English fashion designer Mary Quant made British icon Twiggy wear one, and the shoes boomed, with brands like Yves Saint Laurent and Dior making their line of Mary Janes.

In the 1990s – Grunge alternative rock singer Courtney Love thrilled the fashion industry and trumpeted her pair of Mary Janes, further solidifying this style of shoes as timelessly appealing.

Then the ‘90s iconic teen film Clueless arrived, with star Alicia Silverstone wearing a silver pair, matched with a short plaid miniskirt and knee socks.

Alicia Silverstone wearing Mary Jane shoes with knee-high socks on the set of the 1995 movie CluelessAlicia Silverstone wearing Mary Jane shoes with knee-high socks on the set of the 1995 movie Clueless

Present Day – The Mary Janes are still gracing catwalks, Hollywood films, and famous TV shoes, from Sex and the City to Gossip Girl.

Brands like Manolo Blahnik and Comme des Garçons still sell this classic shoe in exciting variations!

How To Wear Mary Janes

The best thing about Mary Jane shoes is that you can wear them with practically anything: from shorts to trousers, to miniskirts and maxi skirts, to leggings and dresses. It screams childlike yet ultra-fashionable.

Keira Knightley, Liv Tyler, Selma Blair, Katy Perry, and Chloe Moretz show how to wear Mary Jane shoes with chic outfitsKeira Knightley, Liv Tyler, Selma Blair, Katy Perry, and Chloe Moretz show how to wear Mary Jane shoes with chic outfits (Credit: Apega / Avalon / WENN)

Mary Janes Are Everywhere

Mary Jane shoes, with their era-defying style, are here to stay. From its humble beginnings as the shoes of an illustrated little girl in a Sunday comic strip, it has found its way to the runways in Fashion Week and is always featured by fashion editors.

The exciting thing about Mary Janes is how it continuously evolves into modern— and even futuristic designs— while retaining its fundamental design: the strap across the foot.

Whether you think of yourself as a sensible, functional dresser or a fashionista, you undoubtedly have a pair in your closet and are looking to add to your collection!

Kourtney Kardashian Wears Two Mary Jane Heels Two Ways

A Kardashian? In Mary Jane sandals?

Mary Jane sandals do have a reputation for being conservative and old-fashioned. Still, Kourtney Kardashian buckled the stereotype at the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” season premiere in August 2010.

The reality star picked a sassy set of strappy, leopard print and platform Mary Jane slingbacks to complete her all-black outfit.

Kourtney Kardashian wears her hair down at the "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" Season 5 Premiere PartyKourtney Kardashian wears her hair down at the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” Season 5 Premiere Party held on August 19, 2010, at Tro$ale West in Los Angeles (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

Kourtney wore a high-necked all-black mini dress with long sheer sleeves and sheer sides showing ample side boob.

Kourtney Kardashian smiles for photos in an all-black ensemble at the recent series premiere of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians"Kourtney Kardashian smiles for photos in an all-black ensemble at the recent series premiere of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

The shortest Kardashian sister styled her dark hair into loose waves and wore dramatic eye makeup and nude lipgloss.

Kourtney Kardashian shows off her legs in a sheer black dressKourtney Kardashian shows off her legs in a sheer black dress (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

She carried a gold clutch as she posed for photos with her momager, Kris Jenner.

Kourtney Kardashian and her mother, Kris Jenner, pose for photos on the red carpetKourtney Kardashian and her mother, Kris Jenner, pose for photos on the red carpet (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

Kris wore an off-the-shoulder Dolman-sleeved brown mini dress as she posed with her daughter.

Kourtney finished her ensemble with the strappy, sexy, leopard-print Mary Jane sandals.

Kourtney Kardashian's feet in platform leopard-print Mary Jane sandalsKourtney Kardashian’s feet in platform leopard-print Mary Jane sandals (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

And a few days after, she graced the Los Angeles Confidential Magazine Fall Fashion issue celebration in a different — and more classic-looking — pair of Mary Janes.

Kourtney Kardashian pulls her hair back for the Los Angeles Confidential Magazine's Fall Fashion Issue CelebrationKourtney Kardashian pulls her hair back for the Los Angeles Confidential Magazine’s Fall Fashion Issue Celebration held on August 25, 2010, at the London West Hollywood Hotel in West Hollywood (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

For the event, Kourtney wore a black-and-white mini dress that featured lace panels, beaded accents, and a fringed hem.

Kim Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian pose for photos at the Los Angeles Confidential Magazine's Fall Fashion Issue CelebrationKim Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian pose for photos at the Los Angeles Confidential Magazine’s Fall Fashion Issue Celebration (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

She posed for photos with her sister Kim Kardashian, who wore a skintight almond-colored minidress cinched at the waist with a large accented belt.

Kim Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian wear neutral-hued dresses as they pose for photos on the black carpetKim Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian wear neutral-hued dresses as they pose for photos on the black carpet (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

While Kim picked a pair of strappy silver red-soled sandals, Kourtney wore a pair of classic-looking black patent Mary Jane pumps.

Kourtney Kardashian's feet in black-and-yellow Mary Jane pumpsKourtney Kardashian’s feet in black-and-yellow Mary Jane pumps (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

Kourtney’s pumps featured almond toes, platforms, stiletto heels, ankle straps, and yellow lining in the soles and on the bottoms of the shoes.

Kourtney Kardashian's feet in platform Mary Jane pumpsKourtney Kardashian’s feet in platform Mary Jane pumps (Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN / Adriana M. Barraza)

Which pair of Kourtney’s Mary Jane pumps do you prefer? And which outfit is best?

Filed Under: Shoe Styles