Why are these shoes called Mary-Janes?

I’m beginning to learn that in life, everyone has a ‘type’. Whether it’s the type of people that you’re attracted to, the type of clothes you like to wear, the books, movies and music that you like. Everyone has a ‘type’, and that is also true of footwear.

One of Shih Yen’s favourite pair of Mary-Janes shoes, by Camper from their TWS range.

So yes, I have a type when it comes to footwear, and my type is called Mary-Janes. ‘Mary-Jane’ is an American word for a shoe with a strap across the front. One of my earliest memories from when I was 4 years old was of wearing pink Mary-Jane style shoes with a buckle to fasten the strap. I had known for some time that this type of shoe is called Mary-Jane, but until recently, I didn’t know why.

An old Mary-Jane favourite of Shih Yen’s, by Candy.

Recently, I found out why these shoes are called ‘Mary-Janes’ (and it has nothing to do with marijuana!). It’s related to a comic strip by Richard Felton Outcault called Buster Brown, first published in 1902. The Buster Brown character was a 19th century boy who was always getting into trouble. In 1904, Outcault sold licences at the St. Louis World’s Fair for companies to use the Buster Brown character to advertise their products. The Brown Shoe Company was probably the first company to use trademark to sell shoes, when they used the Buster Brown character to sell children’s shoes.

Buster Brown and Mary Jane with Tige the dog, characters by Richard Felton Outcault. Both characters are wearing Mary-Jane shoes.

In the comic strip, Buster Brown had a girlfriend called Mary-Jane. Mary-Jane was based on Outcault’s own daughter who was also named Mary-Jane. In about 1909, Mary-Jane was used to market girls’ shoes. It was so successful that all shoes of this design, with a strap across, became known as ‘Mary-Janes’. Mary-Jane was formerly a registered trademark, but is now a generic term for all shoes of this design.

In the comic strip, both Buster Brown and Mary-Jane wear Mary-Jane style shoes. In the past, Mary-Janes were worn by both boys and girls. But by the 1930s and 1940s, the Mary-Jane style became predominantly associated with girls shoes.

A new Mary-Jane favourite, by Hot Chocolate Design.

Allbirds merino wool shoes

It’s autumn in the Southern hemisphere, and there is a definite nip in the air as the weather gets colder. As it’s getting colder, I thought I would write about these New Zealand merino wool shoes that can keep your feet warm.

The fairly new label is called Allbirds, and they make footwear out of merino wool. Allbirds is a New Zealand label, and they call the shoes ‘from the land of 29,221,344 sheep’. Allbirds was founded by Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger. Tim Brown was a former professional football player who played for the All Whites, the New Zealand football team. He retired from professional football in 2012, and in 2014 used crowd funding to produce their first wool runners shoes. Joey Zwillinger is an engineer and renewable materials expert who helps develop the sustainable materials the shoes are made of. This includes the textile and insoles for the shoes. The shoes are made from 16 micron merino wool (micron is a measurement of the diameter of wool fibre in micrometre) with the textile woven in Italy. The insoles are made of a vegetable oil-based polyurethane and can be machine washed.

To me, machine washing shoes is a very alien concept, though I know that people do it and I guess it’s very convenient. Allbirds shoes are super comfortable and can be worn without socks with no worry about odour. Hey, the shoes are made of wool. It’s a bit like wearing woolen socks, but they are shoes.

Personally, I find Allbirds shoes a bit plain both in design and range of colours. Allbirds shoes only come in 2 styles: sneakers, called ‘wool runners’; and slip ons, called ‘loungers’. And both styles come in very limited colours. Allbirds market that as a selling point, preferring to focus on simplicity in design and premium, natural materials. It is also a very new shoe company, so I’m excited to see more from them in the future.

An Allbirds merino wool shoe. This is their sneaker (wool runners) design.

Photo by Dora Yip at http://www.mrsturnip.com

Minnie Mouse Keds sneakers

A few years ago, I had a pair of Mickey Mouse sneakers. You can read about themĀ here. Recently, I bought a matching pair of Minnie Mouse sneakers, but sadly I no longer have the Mickey Mouse sneakers, as they became too worn.

Shih Yen’s pair of Mickey Mouse shoes.

There’s a mildly funny story about when I bought the Minnie Mouse sneakers. I saw the sneakers advertised in one of those print ad brochures that get delivered in the letter box with the newspaper. I love the design and immediately went to the shop looking for them, but I couldn’t find them. So I went to the counter and said,

Me: Hi, I’m looking for the Minnie Mouse Keds.

Salesperson: We don’t have Minnie Mouse Keds.

That made me confused. Had I accidentally gone into the wrong shop? Then, I saw the exact print ad sitting on the counter, so I picked one up, pointed at the picture on the back page and said, “This one”.

The salesperson consulted another staff member and it turned out that the sneakers wouldn’t be in stock until the following month, which annoyed me a little. Why were they advertising something they didn’t have?

White Minnie Mouse sneakers in Keds’ iconic Champion design. This sneaker also comes in black with Minnie Mouse wearing a red bow.

But no matter. A few months later, I finally bought a pair of Minnie Mouse Keds sneakers, and they were on sale. Bonus! There were a few different Minnie Mouse designs. One was a white pair with a picture of Minnie Mouse on the side. After being forced to wear all-white canvas shoes in Malaysian schools for 11 years, I now refuse to wear white shoes. So I bought a black pair with a platform sole. I love the design, even the design of the shoelaces. The shoelaces have gold metal aglets. (If you don’t know what aglets are, they are the plastic or metal tips at the end of shoelaces).

Shih Yen’s pair of Minnie Mouse sneakers, with gold aglets on the shoelaces.

Keds is a very old sneaker brand, and has been around since 1916. In 1916, the United States Rubber Company advertised their Keds brand tennis shoes as ‘sneakers’ because this appealed to their target market of teenage boys who used the term ‘sneakers’. Keds’ iconic style is the Champion sneaker – canvas shoes with rubber soles. In 2015, Keds launched a campaign called ‘Ladies first since 1916’. This campaign focuses on female empowerment and features celebrities like Taylor Swift.

Roald Dahl and the BFG’s shoes

For my last post of 2016, I wrote about footwear in children’s literature. While I was happy with the topic, I was not happy with the writing, as the post was written in a rush at the last minute. So I have decided to revisit the topic this month. Specifically, I am looking at the footwear of the Big, Friendly Giant (BFG), the titular character in Roald Dahl’s book ‘The BFG’.

Roald Dahl (1916 – 1990) was one of the most famous children’s writers in English. His book ‘The Witches’ won the 1983 Whitbread Award, and ‘Matilda’ won the Children’s Book Award. Many of his books, including ‘The BFG’, have been made into movies.

In ‘The BFG’ the main character, the BFG, catches and collects dreams with a net and bottles them in glass jars. He then uses a long trumpet-like thing to blow the dreams through children’s windows to give them nice and happy dreams.

Roald Dahl had a long partnership with artist Quentin Blake who illustrated almost all of his children’s books. The only other such longstanding partnership I can think of in English children’s literature is with author Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt. In 2013, Quentin Blake was knighted for his services to illustration, making him Sir Quentin Blake. Quentin Blake’s favourite Roald Dahl book is ‘The BFG’, for which he drew double the number of pictures that he had been originally asked for.

bfg-book-cover

Book cover of ‘The BFG’ from 1982, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

In the book, the BFG’s footwear is described like this:

“On his bare feet he was wearing a pair of ridiculous sandals that for some reason had holes cut along each side, with a large hole at the end where his toes stuck out.”

From this description, Quentin Blake wasn’t sure what the BFG’s footwear should look like. So Roald Dahl sent him one of his own sandals in the post, and that was what Quentin Blake ended up drawing.

roald-dahl

A photo of Roald Dahl on the back of the 1982 book cover. Dahl is wearing his BFG sandals.

In fact, the BFG character was a lot like Roald Dahl himself. Dahl was very tall, like a giant. He was almost 6 feet 6 inches tall, or almost 2 metres tall. Dahl would also sometimes pretend to be the BFG, propping a ladder against his house and pushing a bamboo cane through his children’s windows to blow happy dreams inside.

Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake made a perfect partnership of words and pictures. In the words of the BFG, the result is ‘gloriumptious!’

Alpargatas from Argentina, and Latina jeans

I’ve always had a slight interest in Argentina, ever since I turned down a scholarship to study for a year in Argentina. In this month’s post, I’ll write about alpargatas specifically, which is a type of traditional footwear from Argentina, and more generally about Latina fashion.

In my heart, I know I’ll never be Argentine. I’m not hug-y or kissey. Also, there are many things that I can’t understand, such as Argentine people’s very loose definition of time and punctuality, where being ridiculously late is totally fine. So I got invited to a birthday party of an Argentine friend. I actively tried to be late (by Latin American standards), purposely going shopping beforehand to ensure that I would be late. I was still too early, the first person to arrive, when other people were over an hour late.

The invitation to the party said ‘around (alrededor) 13:30′. I was thinking ‘what does ‘around’ mean?’ The day after the party, a Latino friend clarified for me:

Latino friend: ‘Around 1.30’ means 2 o’clock.

Me: So why don’t they say 2 o’clock?

Latino friend: Because if they say 2 o’clock, then people will turn up at 3 o’clock.

Me: !!! (speechless)

I also don’t understand Argentine people’s obsession with mate (pronounced ‘ma-tay’). Mate is a traditional drink, a type of tea made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. It is the national drink of Argentina, and Argentine people drink it anytime and everywhere, out of a gourd with a silver straw called a bombilla. Mate is also drunk in Uruguay, Paraguay and the south of Brazil. When friends get together, they’ll drink mate out of the same gourd, sharing the same straw and passing the gourd back and forth between friends. I will drink mate, but I totally think it’s an acquired taste.

Drinking 'mate' with friends.

Drinking ‘mate’ with friends; drinking out of a gourd with a silver straw.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many things from Argentina that I love; for instance they cook a mean barbecue called asado, with beautiful meat. I like tango, and I love alpargatas. My soul may not be Argentine, but my soles can be. Haha!

Alpargatas are traditional footwear worn by gaucho, or cowboys, in South America. Gaucho are found in parts of Argentina, Uruguay and the south of Brazil. Gaucho are famous for riding horses and herding cattle on horseback. In the past, alpargatas were worn in rural areas. They can be worn by both men and women. Traditionally, alpargatas were monochrome, with cotton uppers and either rubber soles or soles made from jute. These days, alpargatas come in all sorts of colours and designs. Forget famous footballers; for me, I think that’s the one thing Argentina gave to the world: alpargatas. In particular, I feel that the label TOMS truly made alpargatas global.

A few years ago, alpargatas with jute soles, called espadrilles in English, were the height of fashion. They were everywhere and I was slightly obsessed with them, but I never managed to get a pair at the time. Probably because I was too picky. Styles I like didn’t come in my size and I didn’t like the ones that were available in my size, like gold or silver glitter alpargatas. And also I didn’t want alpargatas made in China.

alpargatas

Shih Yen’s alpargatas from Argentina. Yes, they are very comfortable.

Finally, I have got myself a nice, traditional pair of alpargatas, made in Argentina. How does one wear alpargatas? They are casual footwear, which can be worn with or without socks, depending on how cold the weather is. If you’re going for a traditional Argentine look, you can wear them with a poncho and bombachas, or gaucho pants. I have neither poncho nor bombachas, but if I did, I think I could totally rock the gaucho look šŸ™‚

This leads me to the second part of my post – Latina fashion. Since I didn’t have gaucho pants, I looked for something else to wear with my alpargatas. The only thing I have from anywhere even remotely near that region is a pair of butt lift jeans designed in Colombia. Just as Latino people’s concept of time confuses me, some Latina fashion also baffles me. For instance, you can get padded underwear that will give you a bigger butt! Whaaaat?? WHY?? Anyway, back to my butt lift jeans. When I told a Malaysian friend that I had bought a pair of butt lift jeans, my friend said, “Because you’re crazy?” To which, I replied, “No, because I’m curious.” I am still curious. Even after buying them and wearing them, I don’t understand why anyone would want butt lift jeans.

Shih Yen's butt lift jeans from Colombia.

Shih Yen’s butt lift jeans, designed in Colombia.

These jeans supposedly have special type of stitching to help lift the butt. To be honest, I can’t tell whether there’s any butt lifting action! To me, they just seem to be super tight jeans. In a bid to understand the butt lift jeans, I started asking Latino friends, both men and women, about their opinion of these jeans. Mostly I got 1 of 2 responses: they either laughed at my question, or were puzzled by my question. But in general, almost every Latino person I asked like this style; a couple of women were very passionately in favour of them.

I am still puzzled by butt lift jeans. I think perhaps Asian women are built differently from Latinas, and are not as curvy. I can only conclude that it is a cultural difference because of different definitions of beauty in different cultures. At least I have alpargatas, which I love.

Shih Yen wears alpargatas from Argentina with Colombian butt lift jeans.

Shih Yen wears alpargatas from Argentina with Colombian butt lift jeans.

Dutch wooden clogs (klompen)

Happy new year 2017! It’s a brand new year and I’m excited at the start of this year to write about Dutch clogs. I have wanted to write about this type of footwear for ages and I’m happy to finally be able to do so.

When I think about icons related to the Netherlands, tulips, windmills and wooden clogs come to mind. The first ever wooden shoe came from the Netherlands, dating from about 1230 AD, meaning that the Dutch people have been wearing wooden shoes for almost 800 years. These wooden clogs are quite appropriately called klompen. In the past, these clogs were made by hand and cut from a single piece of wood. Nowadays, the clogs are machine made.

A gigantic wooden clog outside a Dutch souvenir shop. This clog is painted with a traditional motif to make the top resemble a leather shoe (Photo by Sim Kui Ping).

A gigantic wooden clog outside a souvenir shop in the Netherlands. This clog is painted with a traditional motif to make the top resemble a leather shoe (Photo by Sim Kui Ping).

The first guild of clog makers was formed in the Netherlands around 1570. Before the 16th century, only rich people could afford shoes, which were handmade from leather. Most people at that time didn’t wear shoes, so wooden shoes became a cheap footwear option for the masses. In the Netherlands, klompen were worn by peasants and farmers.

These days, Dutch people don’t regularly wear klompen anymore, though they are still worn by some people, mainly farmers and gardeners. BecauseĀ klompen are made from wood, they are as safe as safety shoes or steel-capped boots, and can protect the wearer from sharp objects.

Nowadays, klompen are mainly sold as tourist souvenirs of the Netherlands, rather than as actual footwear.

klompen

Colourful ‘klompen’ painted with a windmill design, in a souvenir shop in the Netherlands (Photo by Sim Kui Ping).

If an actual wooden clog is too large, klompen souvenirs can also come in mini forms, such as fridge magnets and pins.

A fridge magnet in the form of 'klompen' (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

A fridge magnet in the form of ‘klompen’ (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

Below is a brooch in the form of a pair of plain, unpainted ‘klompen’, a gift from a friend who used to live in the Netherlands.

A brooch in the form of 'klompen' (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

A brooch in the form of ‘klompen’ (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

Footwear in children’s literature

Today, the shihyenshoes blog turns 5 years old. I can’t believe that I have been writing about footwear for half a decade. To be honest, I thought I would have run out of topics to write about years ago. Who knew so much could be written about footwear. During these past 5 years, I am most proud that I have never missed a single deadline for my blog. Even though it is a self-imposed deadline – to post once a month, on the 1st of the month. There were times when I wasn’t sure that I would make the deadline. And this month is one of them – what with moving house in the midst of a massive earthquake in New Zealand. But how could I miss the 5th birthday of my own blog?

On this 5th anniversary, as I look back on my own body of work on the blog, I realize that this blog makes me seem slightly crazy and obsessed about shoes (I’m not obsessed. Really!). I do have other interests apart from shoes. So this month I thought I would combine my shoe blog with something else that I know a lot about – children’s literature. For this post, I will be looking at the theme of shoes in classic children’s literature.

When I was 4 or 5 years old, my favourite story was ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’. ThisĀ  story was first published in German by the Brothers Grimm in the early 1800s. I love the idea that little elves would magically make shoes in the middle of the night. My best friend in kindergarten gave me a Ladybird book of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, from their series of ‘Well-loved tales’. I found a youtube video showing the exact same edition of the book that my friend gave me. My copy of this book was certainly well-loved.

Another popular story is that of Cinderella. I think everyone knows the story of Cinderella and her glass slipper. Even as a child I couldn’t understand the logic of this story. I can accept elves magically making shoes at night, but in the Cinderella story, I couldn’t understand why the Prince didn’t recognize Cinderella’s face, instead relying on her being able to fit into a glass slipper. And surely there would be more than one woman with the same shoe size as Cinderella.

Cinderella

The Disney version of Cinderella as she puts on the glass slipper.

The story of ‘The Red Shoes’ by Hans Christian Andersen, was first published in the mid-1800s. This story is not so well-known, and perhaps for good reason. This story tells of Karen, a poor girl whose mother dies. Karen loves a pair of red shoes and vainly wears them to church. But the enchanted red shoes make her dance, and she can’t stop dancing until her soul reaches heaven. In darker versions of this story, Karen asks an executioner to cut off her feet so she can stop dancing. I don’t like this story because of its moral against vanity and against admiring shoes in church. Also, this story says that red shoes are not suitable to wear to church, and I don’t agree with that.

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ was first published in 1865. It is more commonly known as ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It was written by an English mathematician under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Shoes don’t feature much in this book, but the original illustrations of the Alice character, by Sir John Tenniel, show her wearing flat shoes in a Mary Jane style.

An original illustration from 1865 of Alice in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel. Alice is always depicted wearing flat Mary Jane shoes.

An original illustration from 1865 of Alice in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel. Alice is always depicted wearing flat Mary Jane shoes.

‘The Wizard of Oz’, originally published as ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ is an American children’s book by L. Frank Baum, first published in 1900. In the classic 1939 movie version of this book, Judy Garland (as Dorothy) famously wore red ruby slippers. A few pairs of these ruby slippers were made, and one pair is at the Smithsonian Institution. Currently, the Smithsonian is raising money to conserve and repair these ruby slippers. They need US$300 000 for the conservation work. $300 000 to conserve a pair of shoes! In the book, Dorothy actually wears silver shoes. By clicking her heels three time while wearing these magic silver shoes, they will take her home. For the movie, the silver shoes were changed to red to take advantage of new Technicolor technology at the time, which would make red shoes look better on screen than silver shoes.

Next, I’m writing about classic children’s books that have a type of footwear in the book’s title. The first is ‘Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates’. This book was first published in 1865, and was written by an American, Mary Mapes Dodge, who had never actually been to the Netherlands when she wrote the book. This book, set in the Netherlands, is about a Dutch boy Hans Brinker and his younger sister Gretel who want to win an ice skating competition. The main prize in the competition is the titular silver skates. Silver skates don’t really feature much in this book. Rather, this book focuses more on life in 19th century Netherlands.

Noel Streatfield was an English writer. She wrote a few children’s books with footwear in their titles. Her best known work was ‘Ballet Shoes’, first published in 1936. This was followed by ‘Tennis Shoes’ in 1937. Possibly due to the popularity of ‘Ballet Shoes’, many of her subsequent works have alternative titles with ‘shoes’ in the title, such as ‘Circus Shoes’, ‘Theatre Shoes’, ‘Dancing Shoes’ and ‘Skating Shoes’. Though again, the shoes themselves don’t feature so much in the books.

I hope you have enjoyed this month’s slightly different blog post on footwear in fiction. A more regular post (on non-fiction footwear!) will resume next month, which is also a brand new year.