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.

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