That little sailor-hat-wearing boy called Buster Brown had a sister, and her name was Mary Jane. The two siblings were popular comic strip characters in the early 1900’s, and both later loaned their names to the Buster Brown Shoe Company. Mary Jane wore sausage curls, a frilly dress, and knee socks. Buster wore the floppy bow Buster Brown suit, and both wore a simple round-toe, instep strap, black shoes, which would become known as Mary Janes.
Mary Janes fast became the quintessential little girl shoe. A pair of white tights, a frilly pinafore dress, and a pair of so-shiny-you-can-see-yourself black patent leather Mary Janes were the uniform of little girls across the world. Whether gussied up in Sunday’s finest or getting ready for a birthday bash, girls weren’t little girls if they didn’t wear a pair of Mary Janes. In the beginning, boys wore the shoes too, but Mary Janes for boys faded when oxfords became widely available.
Mary Janes were your ‘good shoes,’ and required constant care against scrapes, scuffs and dirt—no small task for the rambunctious childhood years of running, jumping and crawling. And that was the point: when mother spent hours curling your hair and ironing your best dress, shining your shoes, and maybe even applying a little rouge to your cheeks and lips, the last thing she wanted to see was you crawling around on the floor like the boys. Pristine shoes required proper behavior: hands in the lap, feet flat on the floor, and a stillness that was torture.
Thankfully, the advent of casual shoes for girls lightened up playtime, but Mary Janes remain a favorite for little girls when dressing up is the name of the game. The traditional black or white patent leather has been joined with innumerable variations in colors and fabrics, but the classic round-toe, instep strap with side buckle design hasn’t changed. Modern China flats utilize the simple Mary Jane style and have re-popularized the little girl shoe for adult gals who like to reminisce about the good ol’ days.
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