A Detailed History of Mary Jane Shoes, How They Got Their Name, What Year They Were Made, and More

Mary Jane shoes are worn by little girls all over the world. Even if you aren’t familiar with matching the name “Mary Jane” with pairs of Mary Jane shoes, you’ve most likely seen this common type of footwear before. Mary Jane shoes look almost like low-profile slip-on shoes, except they’re intended for formal use in today’s era. The popular Mary Jane shoes also feature a small strap connected on the inside or outside of the shoe — only one side, not both — that secures itself to the other side around the ankle using a small buckle.

The name Mary Jane of BHD Mary Jane Shoes comes from the mind of famous comic strip creator Richard F. Outcault. Early in 1902, Outcault thought of a story about a Boy Scout spending most of his time attempting to relax his dog, all the while chasing after his long-sought-after beau.

Buster Brown was a weekly comic square featured in several New York state newspapers, including the highly-circulated New York Herald. The story was brought back to the drawing board for next week’s hilarious renditions, every week. Buster, his dog Tige, and his female friend Mary Jane. The comics were always received well by audiences, ranging from seasoned critics to brand-new adolescent readers. Good reviews were sent every week for over two years to the New York Herald and other newspapers Buster Brown was published in.

The consistently constant onslaught of good vibes regarding the future origin of Mary Jane shoes encouraged R. F. Outcault to consider the potential worth of his successful, chuckle-forcing comic strip. As the creator, the illustrator/writer was also an owner of the individual comic’s rights to fair use. He decided to sell the rights to over fifty businesses at the 1904 Saint Louis-held World’s Fair.

While Outcault maintained ownership over the comic itself, still being the only person who could pen the Buster Brown series of comics. However, all the businesses who purchased the rights were allowed to advertise with the likeness of the series in favor of their own brands — one of which was a footwear manufacturer, distributor, and designer named Brown Shoe Company.

Staying true with the comic’s traditional comedic themes, Brown Shoe Company sent human dwarfs — or little people; or people who were vertically challenged; or midgets — along with pit bull terriers like the publication’s dog Tige around the United States to promote their brand and its products. The Brown-commissioned little people were professionals at acting and in dramas. They were paid to study the Buster Brown line of comics and acted out the parts of Buster himself with dogs, playing the fictional Tige, in tow.

These promotions helped Brown Shoe Company beat out the other companies who purchased the comic’s rights, becoming known as the business associated with Mary Jane shoes and the comic she came from.

Mary Jane shoes were initially worn by men and women of all ages. In the 1920s, preference largely resided in adult women. By the 1930s’ end, men had all but abandoned them, leaving grown and child females left to wear them acceptably according to fashion. Adults totally left the footwear behind after the midpoint of the 20th century, although female kids still wear them to important, formal events, functions, and get-togethers to this very day.