Mary Janes: A Classic Children’s Shoe Turned Modern Day Fave

You’ve probably heard of the classic shoe known as Mary Janes (also referred to as “bar shoes”) — a simple, flat-soled shoe with straps across the top that fasten with a buckle or button (or more recently, velcro). The strap allows wearers to run without worrying that the shoe will fall off — but more importantly, it allows for flexible and easy movement.

Mary-Jane
Image: The British Library
Mary-Jane
Image: The British Library

Children’s Shoes from the Early 20th Century

Mary Janes are a common style of children’s shoes that date back to the early twentieth century. Classic Mary Jane’s are made of black or patent leather, have one thin strap that fastens with a buckle or button, a broad and rounded toe, low heels, and thin outsoles. They were originally made for children though the shoes have grown more popular among women in the late twentieth century.

Today, Mary Janes (especially the more classic styles) are often considered semi-formal, or formal shoes for children. They’re usually worn at school, religious ceremonies, weddings, and any other semi-formal event.

The Origins of Mary Janes

The name itself originates from an early twentieth century American comic strip called Buster Brown. The shoe got its name from the cartoon character Buster Brown and his sister Mary Jane by the Brown Shoe Company of Missouri in 1904. This association and origin is the reason Mary Janes appealed to children first.

Originally worn by both sexes, styles for women began to surface in the 1920s. In the 1930s and 1940s, the shoe became popular amongst girls in North America and Europe. At the time, people called them “bar shoes.” The detailed fabrics and embellishments made Mary Janes perfectly appropriate for evening wear, while the plain styles were more popular for daytime wear.

Mary-Jane
Image: Annie Spratt
Mary-Jane
Image: Annie Spratt

Mary Janes remained popular throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, especially among younger girls. In the 1990s, while the classic Mary Jane still retained its mass popularity and appeal, platform style Mary Janes also surfaced as a new evolution of the design, inspired by the 1960s schoolgirl style. This type of Mary Jane has an outsole that ranges from 1 to 3 centimeters for the main body of the shoe and 8 to 13 centimeters for the chunky heel of the platform. Both styles have remained popular to this day, especially in the US through the late 1990s, seen in the punk rock, psycho-billy, and Goth subcultures.

Mary-Jane
Image: Christina Hernandez

A Versatile and Always Evolving Shoe

For grown-ups, the versatility of Mary Janes also makes them an excellent addition to any shoe collection. The two most common types of Mary Janes are: flat (more childlike in nature when worn with a sophisticated outfit), and heeled (featuring pointed toes, strap details, and luxury materials that give the shoes a more adult appearance). The flexibility of these features allows wearers to cater their shoe to their look.

Thanks to the evolution of the shoe and fashion markets, Mary Janes can now be found in leather, cotton, or patent materials, with floral, color-blocked, or striped patterns. Women love Mary Janes because of the traditional and classic style they represent. The shoes allow for creativity and expression thanks to the mix of prints, fabrics, heels, and heights.

Make sure to check out our shop to get yourself a cute new pair of flats!

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