Fashion: The history of... The Mary Jane shoe: Called to the bar

Susannah Conway
Sunday 16 August 1998 00:02 BST

BUTTON your shoe, girls. The most directional style for autumn/winter 1998/99 is the Mary Jane, this time in a flat, pointy-toed incarnation. What defines this dainty style is the "bar" - a single-buttoned strap across the top of the foot which dates back to the turn of the century. The name comes from the shoes worn by Mary Jane, a character from the Buster Brown comic strip (drawn by R F Outcault) which first appeared in the New York Herald in 1902. Little girls everywhere clamoured for them, and until the late Fifties they were a must-have style for both boys and girls.

Adults weren't inured to their charms either. The bar shoes worn for dancing in the Twenties were sophisticated, ornate affairs, in silk satins, often hand-painted in reds, blues and golds, with plainer styles for daywear. Then, in 1934, Shirley Temple skipped across the screen wearing white Mary Janes in Baby Takes a Bow, and nearly 30 years later John Kennedy Jr saluted his dead father's casket in a pair.

Mary Quant cottoned on to them in the Sixties, and put childlike Twiggy into black tap shoes and a smock, taking Mary Jane back to her roots, and bringing the "little girl" look on to the catwalk. Courreges, Yves Saint Laurent and Dior featured elegant bar shoes in their collections, often in patent leather with low, solid heels and tapering toes.

But Mary Jane's most memorable appearance in the Nineties so far was as worn by Courtney Love and pals who subverted the Sixties look, staking a claim for their own sexuality and appearance. As for the future - Narciso Rodriguez, Marc Jacobs and Comme Des Garcons, as well as leading shoe men Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, will be using the Mary Jane shape in their forthcoming collections. Worn with a long or mid-calf skirt, this shape should be a bestseller for the new season and years to come. Like last season's stiletto boot, it's a shoe that makes women feel feminine - always a winner.

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