Story Behind Mary Jane Shoes

The Often Unknown Story Behind Mary Jane Shoes

People often lose track of the origin of popular clothes, sayings, clichés, and virtually everything in human culture. It’s not because people don’t care — stories often go untold, and this sentiment rings true with Mary Jane shoes, a style of shoe characterized by their being open around the ankle, having a closed toe, and featuring one strap across the top of the shoe.

Pretty much every child in the United States wore these shoes between the 1920s and 1940s, although children grew out of them quickly once they became older. Adult women used to wear this shoes, too, although the timeline of who wore them and how is discussed a little later on.

Long-running newspaper the New York World featured a comedian and animator named Richard Felton Outcault on the publication’s staff, whose name was often shortened to R. F. Outcault. He had a regular comic strip named Buster Brown started in 1902 that featured co-star Mary Jane. Both Buster and his friend Mary Jane wore the same type of shoe on each installment of the hilariously popular comic strip.

Mr. Outcault was a popular, well-received comic and animator, hailed as the “Father of the Sunday Comic Strip” by many textbooks, encyclopedias, and other historical sources. As such, he was popular in the first decade of the 20th century. Mr. Outcault received more attention and outpourings of interest for the Mary Jane-related comic than any other comic of his. A lot of people said they liked both of their shoes, to which the famous animator made use of.

R. F. Outcault went to the World Fair, held in St. Louis, Missouri that year, and sold the rights to a couple hundred companies and manufacturers that wanted to produce those same, exact shoes. With such competition producing and marketing the shoes all around the United States, consumers saw many pairs of these shoes, soon to be called BHD Mary Jane Shoes. Somehow, the average American didn’t get tired of the footwear, allowing it to reside as a cultural staple in the country.

At the time, Mary Jane shoes were just starting to be popular, soon to catch a foothold as to how they fitted in with style and fashion. Men wore them just as much as women directly after their release, with more women than men wearing them in the 1920s. Just ten years later, fashion in the United States shifted away from men and boys wearing Mary Jane shoes, becoming reserved for women.

Within 20 years after Mary Jane shoes became popular for women to wear, adults started abandoning them altogether. As men and boys were long out of the Mary Jane shoes equation at this time, female children became the number one wearer of Mary Jane shoes.

Mary Jane shoes started out on Sunday comic book characters. They soon garnered the interest of manufacturers, pumping them out in mass fashion. Mary Jane shoes today are worn in formal attire by young girls, usually when going to school, church, weddings, and other formal gatherings.

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