Mary Jane is an American term (formerly trademarked) for a kind of strap shoe or sandal that typically has low heels, broad and rounded closed toes, and a single-buckle strap across the instep and/or around the ankle. They are traditionally made of black patent leather, although some current incarnations can be in a wide array of colors and leathers.
Traditionally Mary Janes are a variety of shoe worn mainly by young girls. In modern times they are worn by women of all ages. Mary Janes are typically considered formal for girls and informal when worn by women.
Mary Jane was a character created by Richard Outcault for his comic strip, Buster Brown, which was first published in 1902. She was the sister of the title character, Buster Brown.
In 1904, Outcault traveled to the St. Louis World's Fair and sold licenses to up to 200 companies to use the Buster Brown characters to advertise their products. Among them was the Brown Shoe Company, who later hired actors to tour the country, performing as the Buster Brown characters in theaters and stores. This strategy helped the Brown Shoe Company become the most prominently associated brand with the Buster Brown characters. The style of shoe Buster Brown's sister wore came to be known by her name, Mary Jane.
While the classic Mary Jane still retains its wide popularity and appeal, today's more stylish Mary Janes tend to be platform styles, with half-inch to one-inch soles and three- to five-inch "chunky heels", often with exaggerated grommets or buckles. These styles were especially popular in the United States in the late 1990s and early 2000s, within punk rock, psychobilly, and goth subcultures. Many times the wearers would accent the look with knee-high knit socks in dark-colored stripes or patterns and often complete the look with a plaid, pleated schoolgirl-style skirt.
Mary Janes are a popular part of kinderwhore and Lolita fashion. A pump with a strap across the instep may be referred to as a "Mary Jane pump," although it does not have the low heels or wide toe of the original Mary Jane. In the Saw horror-film series, Billy the Puppet wears a pair of red Mary Janes. Stacy Ferguson AKA Fergie has an ode to these soles on her debut solo album, The Dutchess. Velma Dinkley in the Scooby-Doo animated series usually wears a pair of Mary Janes.