Is there anything more classic than a Mary Jane? Taking the form of danceable low heels in the 1920s, elegant pumps in the '50s, and chunky platforms in the '90s, Mary Janes keep getting reinvented, but they never seem to go away completely. Something about the simple style—defined by a strap that crosses over the top of the foot and buckles on the other side—has captivated designers and shoppers for decades.
We certainly saw it this fall, when Mary Jane heels were front and center on runways in some of the grooviest (and most embellished) states yet. Mary Katrantzou sent models parading down the runway in mega-high Mary Jane velvet platforms with superskinny double straps. At Miu Miu, white patent leather heels with five straps and pointy-toed heels covered by oversize buckles each presented a distorted take on the shoe. Rag & Bone designed sleek, rockabilly-flavored black-and-white stiletto Mary Janes, while Dolce & Gabbana's were royal velvet, with bejeweled heels and simple buttoned straps. Opening Ceremony currently sells a series of patent leather low-heeled Mary Janes by Carel, and Doc Martens' T-strapped Polley shoes are, of course, the elementary-school throwback that keeps on giving.
Mary Jane shoes (in all colors, heights, and varying degrees of drama) have tiptoed in and out of my life at almost all ages. But one pair stands out as particularly special: shopping for my first-day-of-school outfit in high school, I picked up a pair of cherry-red patent leather high-heeled Mary Janes with a thick buckled strap. They were childish without literally being for children, and with their bright-red color and two-inch heel, they made me feel more Cher Horowitz than Gap Kids. The corners of my mouth curled upward when I first spotted them—a dream shoe.
Nearly eight years later, I still own them, and, miraculously, still fit into them, too. I wear them all the time. Because their shape is so classic, they've been delightfully easy to adapt to my style over the years.
What I really love about Mary Janes is how universally loved they've been by women I've admired across so many ages and eras. Shirley Temple wore them in the '30s; Twiggy slipped them on in the '60s; Courtney Love perverted them in the Kinderwhore-heavy '90s. The Mary Janes of my elementary school years aren't too far from the heeled versions I own now. Little girls, young women, and grande dames can, and all do, wear the shoe in their own way. Mary Janes are more than just a nostalgia item; they're an undying symbol of womanhood—and a link to all those who came before us.