What are Mary Janes?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 January 2020
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Mary Janes are a type of shoe commonly worn by young girls and women, although men do wear them on occasion. The basic style of the shoe includes a low heel, a rounded toe, and a single strap across the foot, and they are usually made out of patent leather. Mary Janes are dress-up shoes for little girls, while adult women wear them for a casual look.

Mary Jane herself is a character from a cartoon called Buster Brown created by Richard Outcault. Buster Brown romps through life with his sister Mary Jane and dog Tige. In 1904, the Brown Shoe Company purchased the rights to Buster Brown, and created a Buster Brown line for kids which included Mary Janes. The company hired actors to travel around the country selling shoes while dressed as Buster Brown and friends, catapulting the brand to stardom.

In the 1920s, many women adopted Mary Janes for a wide variety of situations. Mary Jane heels were still unknown, but women could be seen wearing patent leather Mary Jane flats everywhere from casual tea parties to weddings. The popularity of the shoes among girls continued to be extremely popular: most young ladies had a dress of pair of Mary Janes for important occasions.


Although Mary Janes are most frequently made from black patent leather, a variety of other materials are used, especially for adult Mary Janes. The shoes can be made out of genuine leather and cloth in a variety of colors and patterns, and are also sometimes lined with colorful prints. The shoes retain the basic look of rounded toe and strap, but some companies have given the Mary Jane shoe a makeover with larger heels, large buckles, multiple thin straps, ribbons, and other innovations.

When purchasing Mary Janes for a child, look for comfort and good fit. Because children's feet are constantly growing, you may want to select a shoe with a slightly loose fit to allow the child to grow into it, and made sure that the shoes are wide enough for the child's feet. When choosing Mary Janes for an adult, check the fit and comfort, especially with heels, and consider the types of outfits that the shoe might be worn with. Mary Janes can dress up a pair of jeans or make a formal dress more casual, and there are a wide variety of styles to choose from so that the right effect can be created.


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Post 1

Mary Janes were worn for centuries by men, women and children before they were called Mary Janes.

Prior to that time they were called strap shoes and the closure was a strap and button (before the advent of buckles). In the early 20th, late 19th centuries they were worn equally by boys and girls.

In the early 20th century even the Sears catalog contained 'strap shoes' (in the dress shoe department) for men!

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