The Reinvention of the Mary Jane

Raf Simons, Miuccia Prada, and Dior have all reimagined the classic style—which can be found on just about every spring 2023 runway.

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Collage by Ashley Peña

Earlier this month, on the eve of New York Fashion Week, Sandy Liang thought she may have overestimated when she launched her first footwear by rolling out 1,200 pairs of Mary Janes. They ended up selling out in two days, and the weeks that followed have made it clear why. By the time designers like Stuart Vevers of Coach and Elizabeth Hilfiger of Foo and Foo closed out the New York shows, it seemed almost inevitable that the style would crop up on the catwalks in London—and sure enough, they turned up on the feet of all but one of the models who walked Emilia Wickstead. Like Liang, Wickstead kept it relatively classic—whereas that same day, Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena got weird at their label Chopova Lowena’s highly anticipated runway debut. Their versions of the shoe were covered in chains, charms, and tinsel—and it’s worth noting they could be found on the male models, too. (Fendi, J.W. Anderson, and Comme des Garçons all made the case for Mary Janes for men earlier this year.)

Mary Janes seen at the Sandy Liang spring 2023 show during New York Fashion Week and Emilia Wickstead spring 2023 show at London Fashion Week, September 2022.

Photo by Rodin Banica; courtesy of Emilia Wickstead

Mary Janes on the spring 2023 runways of Coach, Chopova Lowena, and Foo and Foo, September 2022.

The Milan shows saw Mary Janes get the ultimate seal of approval: Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons incorporated them into 47 of the 55 looks they presented for spring 2023, ranging in color from orange to black and all with a pointed toe and three-inch heel. Versace also elevated the style, nearing the territory of Dua Lipa’s go-to footwear of 2022: the towering, strap-heavy Mary Jane platforms from Marc Jacobs’s subsidiary line Heaven. Meanwhile, Sportmax presented pairs that bordered on sculptures, and men’s Mary Janes were even a part of how Rhuigi Villaseñor signaled he was going to change things up for Bally in his first show since taking the brand’s helm.

Mary Janes on the spring 2023 Bally runway at Milan Fashion Week, September 2022.

Photo by Pietro D'Aprano via Getty Images

Mary Janes on the spring 2023 runways of Prada, Sportmax, and Versace, September 2022.

Photos via Getty Images

The above image may give you pause: Could the colossuses on Lipa’s feet really be classified as Mary Janes? They certainly aren’t the ones found on its namesake cartoon character at the start of the 1900s, the ones that Shirley Temple popularized in the 1930s, nor the ones found on Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy in the 1960s courtesy of Mary Quant. But in 2002, none other than Carrie Bradshaw made it clear that Mary Janes could be more than a simple children’s shoe when she exclaimed “I thought these were an urban shoe myth!” upon discovering a Manolo Blahnik pair in a 2002 episode of Sex and the City. Lest you doubt that a strap—technically known as a “bar”—across the instep of a pointed-toed pair of stilettos could fall into the category, the V&A Museum, an esteemed 170-year-old institution, presented them as such in a 2015 footwear exhibition.

Photos via Getty Images

The final stretch of the spring 2023 season is upon us, and Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri is here to assure you that the Paris fashion scene is also on board with reinventing the Mary Jane. Could the versions with straps that stretched all the way up models’ knees even be classified as boots, too? Whatever you want to call them, it’s clear that when it comes to footwear classifications, designers are keeping us on our toes.

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