Haute History: Mary Janes

mary jane 1 | via vmac+cheese

manolo mary janes | via vmac+cheese

mary jane 2 | via vmac+cheese

When it comes to all things art, fashion, and culture, I’m always interested in the background and history of how things came to be. I think understanding the heritage and history of everyday objects in our culture makes appreciating them that much more enriching! So today, I thought I’d launch an occasional series focused on exploring the history of our favorite fashion pieces. First up: the classic Mary Jane shoe!

Though the sweetness of Mary Janes are often associated with their ‘Lolita’ connotation, MJs have actually been a fashion staple for centuries — and previously, were worn by men. Renaissance paintings of King Henry VIII of England, for example, clearly show him donning Mary Janes. Similarly, photographs of men and boys in Imperial China have also shown that these shoes weren’t always considered girl-like and feminine. Interesting, no?

The name ‘Mary Jane’ comes from an early 20th century comic strip that was named Buster Brown, first published in 1902. One of the comic’s characters, Mary Jane, was the sweetheart of the title character Buster. In 1904, the creator of the comic strip attended the St. Louis World’s Fair and made good on his popular comic by selling licenses to two hundred companies, so that they could use Buster Brown characters in advertising and promotion. One of those companies was the Brown Shoe Company, who began hiring actors to tour the country and play the various characters of the comic strip, to help promote the shoes. The shoe style that the Mary Jane actresses wore? You guessed it — a low shoe with a strap across the foot that buckled to one side. The promotions became so popular that this particular style of shoe became known as a Mary Jane.

solange knowles in mary janes | via vmac+cheese

In America, the shift between MJs being a unisex shoe to being mostly for girls happened in the 1930s. Traditional MJs were typically low to the ground, with one thin strap secured with a buckle or a button. The toe was round and very broad, and the shoes were traditionally made with black or patent leather. Obviously, the modern MJ has evolved significantly…and if you ask me, for the (very stylish!) better.

miu miu cat mary janes | via vmac+cheese

I personally adore modern interpretations of Mary Janes — they have one foot steeped in traditional, classic style, but with the mix of prints, fabrics, heels, and heights you can add to them, they are anything but boring! Here are a few of my recently found favorites:

{Click on any item to check it out!}
Mary Janes

Polished space age DV MJ Spotted Bohemian Seventies classic contemporary black italian summer luxe

{Image Credits: The Cut; Love Maegan; Casual Glamorous; Solange Knowles photographed by Boo George for Vogue, Feb 2013; Elle. Info on Mary Janes via Wikipedia}

29 comments

  1. Rachel said: replied:

    The basic black ones are my favorite- they are so classic and feminine!

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  2. Chelsea said: replied:

    Mary Janes will forever remind me of Carrie Bradshaw in the Vogue closet. I do adore this style of shoe :)

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  3. Fernanda M. Durán said: replied:

    I adored the Polished MJ’s.
    It’s funny to imagine if men wore this at this times.

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  4. I have to admit, I didn’t know what a Mary Jane was until I saw the episode of Sex in the City when Carrie talks about the Manolo Blahnik Mary Jane being an urban legend – one of my favorite episodes!

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
    1. Maddy said: replied:

      Yes! This post brought me back to the same episode!

      5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  5. Lauren said: replied:

    Oooh those spotted MJs are calling my name! They are so so cute. I also really like the Summer MJ.

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  6. Chloe Moon said: replied:

    I didn’t know about Mary Jane’s either until that Sex & the City episode too! As I was reading this all I heard was Carrie. I guess I am a big Mary Jane fan because these are beatiful!!

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  7. Super interesting. I never thought about the history of the Mary Jane!

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  8. I love Mary Janes. They’re my favorite pumps for work. I think it’s partially because I think they fit my feet better since my feet are slightly different sizes; the strap helps keep them fitting properly.

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  9. I love it! I love, love, love the Memphis MJ; I’m a sucker for cobalt blue right now!

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  10. daisy said: replied:

    i love the modern maryjane. its such a classic shoe!

    & Pretty Things

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  11. loven’ them!

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  12. Lindsay said: replied:

    I love this roundup Victoria! I love the history behind them, and the MJs you included are all absolutely gorgeous! I simply NEED to go out and buy a pair – thanks for the inspiration! xo

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  13. Liz said: replied:

    Such a great idea for a series, Victoria! I love how you’ve delved a little deeper instead of just sticking with rounding up favorite heels of the moment.

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  14. Audrey said: replied:

    Mary Janes are my favorite! So flattered that you used my image Victoria! Adore your blog!! xx

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  15. Alyssa said: replied:

    I loveddd Mary Janes when I was younger, so I’m so glad they’re back (and looking chic!). I definitely need to pick up a pair.

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  16. Tiffany @ Savor Home said: replied:

    This post should be published in Vogue or something. So good!

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  17. elle said: replied:

    I haven’t worn MJs since I was little but I really love the more modern take on the style! As a memphis gal I love the blue pair but would wear the “luxe glam” ones all the time!!

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  18. FripperyVintage said: replied:

    Great post, lots of fun. Love all the shoes.

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  19. TheNOW said: replied:

    Oh yay!! I loved learning about MJ’s!! I mean those Dior’s are insane. I just pictured a man wearing mary janes and got a little creeped out! haha! xo

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  20. Nina said: replied:

    So interesting! Those spotted MJs are great – so many options.

    xx Nina

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  21. Kayla said: replied:

    Who doesn’t love a good mary jane? Thanks for sharing that historical info! I love all your picks! : )

    Kayla
    http://www.lovelucygirl.com

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  22. Krisitna said: replied:

    You know, I don’t think I’ve ever owned a pair of Mary Janes, but I do think they’re very cute. Maybe I should get a pair ;)

    Kristina

    Kristina does the Internets

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  23. Meghan said: replied:

    Very interesting post , learned something new today .

    xo Meg<3

    Meghan Silva’s Blog

    5 Mar 2013 | Reply
  24. Steph Waung said: replied:

    hey victoria! i’ve been loving your blog and all the blogging advice you’ve been offering. i was wondering if you’ve always been a Mac or if you changed over while blogging? i love all the things you’ve done on photoshop and was wondering what makes a Mac better than a PC in this regard? i’m asking other bloggers on my blog today but i’d love to hear what you have to say in any way =) thanks!

    6 Mar 2013 | Reply
  25. Nnenna said: replied:

    Love this post- so interesting to learn the history behind the Mary Jane. I love that there are so many different styles/colors now, but I have to say that the basic black is my favorite of the ones above!

    6 Mar 2013 | Reply
  26. Angelica Golden said: replied:

    Swooning over the Spotted and the Memphis MJs.
    –Angelica
    http://www.savvygirllife.com

    6 Mar 2013 | Reply
  27. […] Mary Jane – to Brown Shoe Company. The company ran a slew of ads featuring the characters with ankle-strap shoes, which they wore in the comic strip. It called these shoes, fittingly, Mary […]

    10 Sep 2013 |
  28. […] more info on Mary Janes try The Independent, Circa Vintage, Victoria McGinley or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of […]

    7 Oct 2014 |

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