What Are Mary Jane Shoes? How to Wear Mary Janes

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

Since its inception in the early 20th century, this unisex shoe is still as fashionable as ever among kids and adults alike, 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, 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 this shoe, how to wear them, and the most important of all— 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— among them was 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, yes, 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 and Hollywood films and famous TV shoes, from Sex and the City to Gossip Girl.

Brands like Manolo Blahnik and Comme des Garçons are still selling 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 is continuously evolving 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, no doubt you have a pair in your closet and are looking to add to your collection!

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