The Rise of Mary Jane Shoes – Are They Still Popular Today?
Mary Jane shoes are low-profile shoes. The back and sides of Mary Jane shoes rise just short of the ankle, about mid-way up the foot. There is no tongue — the area in which modern tennis shoes are laced up — on Mary Jane shoes, instead kept on by a small, thin strap with a buckle or, sometimes, a button. This type of footwear is usually worn exclusively by young girls going to church, attending weddings or funerals, or heading off to school. Outside of female children wearing Mary Jane shoes in formal settings, these shoes are virtually nowhere to be seen in today’s era of fashion, style, and clothing.
Mary Jane shoes got their start in an animated comic strip, which was also in its early stages at the time. R. F. Outcault was an animator and writer for the New York World newspaper, released every Sunday throughout the Empire State. He began working for various newspapers in the late 1900s and was in the later stages of his career when he published comic Buster Brown for the first time in 1902.
Buster Brown was regarded as a hit by avid newspaper readers, comics, and even occasional readers. The comic featured primarily two characters: its namesake Buster Brown and childhood friend Mary Jane. Oddly enough, the pair were the same type of shoes in the animated comedic pioneer — of course known today as BHD Mary Jane Shoes.
After two years of continuing Buster Brown, Mr. Outcault had received so many sentiments about the pair’s shoes that he decided to capitalize on them himself. Holding the rights to the comic’s and its character’s likeness, he visited the 1904 World’s Fair being held in Saint Louis. He sold off the ability for companies to capitalize on the comic strip’s likeness, particularly Buster Brown and his female friend Mary Jane. These characters were used to advertise various products and services across the United States.
A footwear manufacturer called the Brown Shoe Company used Buster Brown and Mary Jane to help sell their products. The company hired people to dress up as these two characters, performing plays, shorts, and other plays that helped Brown Shoe Company sell its offerings.
Even though 199 other companies held the rights to the comic’s characters, Brown Shoe Company was most closely associated with the comic’s likeness. They became the largest manufacturer, distributor, and seller of Mary Jane shoes in the United States.
Mary Jane shoes gained popularity by all ages and genders until the 1920s, when they became most popular with grown women. In the 1930s, men stopped wearing them completely, boys and men alike having worn them until this point. The footwear’s prevalence among adults dropped off completely in the 1940s, although still being worn by some — female children, toddlers, and babies.
The footwear is still popular today, nearly 120 years after they made their debut in comic strip Buster Brown. Young girls usually only wear them in settings requiring formal dress, albeit the legend of these shoes lives on.