The History of Mary Jane Shoes

The new Prism collection features not one but two splendid Mary Janes, Anna May (3 inch heel) and Millie (1.75 inch heel). We have been working on these babies for a looooong time, making sure the new last shape and everything else about them were absolutely perfect!

Millie Mary Janes in black, from the American Duchess Prism collection.

Mary Janes are one of the most recognizable and ubiquitous styles of all time. Mary Janes have been worn with school uniforms, workwear, winter coats and spring dresses. They have graced the feet of both children and adults, in all sorts of colors, with buckles and buttons, flat and heeled.

Mary Jane style shoes have actually been around for longer than the name “Mary Jane”; shoes with closed rounded toes and a strap across the instep have been worn in various iterations in many different time periods and cultures through history. There are examples of shoes as far back as the 16th century that look quite similar to Mary Janes!

This 16th century shoe from the Met Museum collection features a familiar looking instep strap.

In the 19th century, this style was often seen on young children, boys in particular. They were usually referred to as ‘bar shoes’ or ‘doll shoes’. It wasn’t until 1904 that the name ‘Mary Jane’ was associated with the style, when the Brown Shoes Company licensed the name from the Buster Brown comic series by R.F Outcault. Mary Janes were named after Buster Brown’s companion, Mary Jane.

Buster Brown valentine from 1907, from the Kansas City Public Library.

Note: like many comics of the early 20th century, R.F Outcault made some offensive, racist and outdated content. The licensing of the name ‘Mary Jane’ from Outcault’s comics has long since expired and the shoe style is no longer financially connected to the comics.

Vintage advertisement from the Brown Shoe Company

In the early days of Mary Janes the style was particularly popular for children. As fashions for children were typically more ‘formal’ than today, Mary Janes made the perfect pair with children’s short suits and floofy dresses, as well as with school uniforms.

Shirley Temple in Mary Janes in Baby Takes a Bow, 1934.

Mary Janes with heels started becoming particularly popular for women in the 19-teens and 1920’s. They were all the rage amongst fashionable flappers. Along with the very recognizable T-straps, Mary Janes made for excellent dancing shoes for those long nights in the jazz clubs. Also called ‘strap pumps’, Mary Janes were made in all sorts of colors and patterns during the 1920s. Since hemlines were higher, shoes were more visible than ever, and they were worth showing off. There are so many gorgeous extant examples!

1920’s starburst Mary Janes. *grabby hands*
Vintage advertisement for 1920s shoes- instep straps galore!

The Mary Jane and T-strap styles that were so popular amongst flappers in the 1920s have had their legacy preserved in the theater world, as character shoes are often Mary Janes or T-straps, likewise with ballroom dance, flamenco, and other performing arts!

Oh-so-comfortable and versatile, Mary Janes remained a popular shoe choice throughout the 1920s and following decades. In the 1960s, Mary Janes were sported by famous supermodel Twiggy, further cementing them into a place of fashion history honor.

Twiggy Poster
Twiggy for Mary Quant, featuring Mary Janes.

Our new Mary Janes come in two heel heights. Anna May features a gorgeous 3 inch / 7.6 cm French heel, and Millie comes with a shorter 1.75 inch / 4.4 cm heel (the same as the heels on Astoria and Kensington). Both Anna May and Millie come in glacé black, navy, and oxblood leathers, and are accurate to the 19-teens all the way through the 1960s. Just like the original shoes we studied, these reproductions have a convenient 0.5 inch tab under the button strap, which means you can move the button to fit high or low insteps if necessary.

Anna May and Millie are both available for $20/€20 off through August 12 as part of our Prism Collection pre-order, in both our US and EU stores!

Anna May and Millie in oxblood

“Prism” by American Duchess
Pre-Order July 29 – August 12, 2022
$20/€20 discount per pair

Europe/UK –

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