The hypothetical quinceañera

The day before my 15th birthday I wrote, ‘A decade and a ½ seems old.’ 😀 It has been many, many years since I was 15, and I now find that statement to be quite funny. I never had a 15th birthday party, and since I didn’t have a party, I also don’t have any photos from my 15th birthday. This is because 15 is not a particularly special age in Asia, or in many parts of the world.

However in Latin America, the 15th birthday is a very, very big deal for teenage girls. The birthday girl is called the quinceañera, and the 15th birthday party is called fiesta de quince años in Spanish, or festa de quinze anos in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, and it is celebrated in countries all over the Americas. In the past, the 15th birthday party was a way to present a girl to society, much like a debutante. It signified that the girl was ready for marriage. These days, it’s more of a celebration of the girl like a princess.

When I say that the 15th birthday party is a big deal, I mean it is a seriously big deal, like a wedding. Possibly the most famous quinceañera is Mexican teen Rubi Ibarra García who had a 15th birthday party on 26 December 2016. The video invitation to her 15th birthday party went viral on social media. More than a million people responded to the invitation saying they would attend, and Rubi’s 15th birthday party spawned many memes. In the end, thousands of people attended Rubi’s 15th birthday in La Joya, a small village in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí. The village normally has a population of 200. Despite added security, one man died during the horse race and another was injured.

Since I never had a 15th birthday party, I thought it might be fun to have a hypothetical one. The dresses that quinceañeras wear are big, elaborate dresses fit for a princess. They are much like wedding dresses. Traditional colours for the quinceañera dress are white or pink, or pastel colours. But really these days, it seems like any colour is fine. For me, the age of 15 was sort of filled with teenage angst. I’m not sure I would have gone with the whole girly Barbie-type dress. Maybe that’s something I would have chosen if I was 5 years old. But if I had to pick a girly quinceañera dress for myself, I would go with this one:

Quinceañera dress from Q by Da Vinci in flamingo (style 80292).

In general, the fiesta de 15 años in every country involves dancing, usually a waltz with the birthday girl and her father. For this post, I’m concentrating on the 15th birthday party in Mexico because the Mexican fiesta de 15 años has many traditions that really resonate with me. The 15th birthday party is a transition, from being a girl to becoming a woman, and the Mexican birthday party has many symbolic touches to reflect this transition. One such element is called la ultima muñeca, or ‘the last doll’. In this tradition, the birthday girl is given a doll at her birthday party. The doll is usually wearing a similar dress to the quinceañera. This doll is the last doll that the quinceañera will play with, and the doll is a symbol that the birthday girl is now giving up childhood toys and becoming a woman.

An example of a ‘last doll’ or ‘ultima muñeca’ wearing a dress to match the quinceañera.

Another element of the Mexican fiesta de 15 años involves shoes (Finally! Were you wondering when I would get to the part about shoes?). This Mexican tradition is called ‘changing of the shoes’. During the birthday party, before the waltz, the quinceañera changes her shoes from flat shoes to high heels. These are meant to be the quinceañera‘s first high heeled shoes, and like the last doll, they are a symbol that the girl is now a woman.

I only recently found out about this ‘changing of the shoes’ tradition. If I had known about it when I was turning 15, I would have had a party just to get some new shoes. So here are some footwear options for my hypothetical 15th birthday party.

Shoe by EricDress.

This pair of shoes by Eric Dress would match the quinceañera dress, but in my opinion, the rhinestones are too bling, and the heels are too high for my 15-year-old self to realistically walk in. If I had to pick shoes for the Mexican ‘changing of the shoes,’ I would go with shoes by Venezuelan label, Hot Chocolate Design. I would start with these flat pink Mary-Jane shoes, by Hot Chocolate Design from their Chocolaticas range. These flat shoes have silver glitter soles. Not as bling as rhinestones, but suitably shiny for a quinceañera.

Chocolaticas by Hot Chocolate Design (style ‘Space’).

Then, at the party, I would change from the flat shoes to these Mary-Jane high heels, also by Hot Chocolate Design.

Chocolaticas high heels by Hot Chocolate Design (style ‘Marie Antoinette’).

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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, the character from the comic strip, 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.

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’. This  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.