“I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes,
I had two thousand and sixty.”
I believe that every girl, at one point or another in her life, has owned a pair of Mary Jane shoes. What defines this dainty style is a single-buttoned strap across the top of the foot which is commonly referred to as the “bar”.
This style dates back to the turn of the century when R.F Outcault drew Buster Brown’s sister Mary Jane with these iconic shoes in his comic strip. Buster Brown first appeared in the New York Herald in 1902 and soon after, little girls everywhere clamored for them, and until the late Fifties they were a must-have style for both boys and girls.
Traditionally, Mary Jane shoes are simple looking shoes characterized by low heels, broad and rounded closed toes and a the “bar” strap across the instep or around the ankle. The classic Mary Jane is made with black patent leather which gives a black shiny look to the shoes. There is no situation where Mary Jane shoes would be out of fashion.
In 1914, Necco brand put out a candy called Mary Jane that featured a picture of the Buster Brown character. Although the name of the candy was from the family’s favorite aunt, Mr. Outcault’s iconic Mary Jane struck a chord with consumers and made this candy an instant classic.
Although originally designed as a young child’s shoe, adults were also devoted to their charm. Mary Jane shoes worn in the Twenties and Thirties were sophisticated, ornate affairs, in silk satins, often hand-painted.
Then, in 1934, Shirley Temple skipped across the screen wearing white Mary Janes in Baby Takes a Bow. Nearly 30 years later in an iconic moment, John Kennedy Junior saluted his father’s casket in a pair.
In the Sixties, the childlike model Twiggy brought the “little girl” look on to the catwalk and completed many of her ensambles with Mary Janes. Courreges, Yves Saint Laurent and Dior featured elegant bar shoes in their collections, often in patent leather with low, solid heels and tapering toes.
Now, Mary Janes come in all styles, from flats to high heels, peep-toe to pointy. If you have baby girl, Trumpette makes the most darling Mary Jane socks.
My personal pair come from the 2008 Kenneth Cole New York collection. They remind me of a pair that a little girl from the 1940s would wear and I always get compliments when I wear them. Mary Janes, like the pair below, would make a sweet accompaniment to a Christmas dress for little ones. As any classic piece of fashion should, the Mary Jane is a shoe that will always make any girl feel feminine.
“I’ve always looked at shoes as being immensely beautiful things.”