Strap Shoes


Figure 1.--Younger boys in the first half of the 20th century often wore stap shoes and white socks with with dressy outfits. The photo shows Mrs. Leonard Thomas (nee Blanche Oelrichs) and her two sons Robin and Leonard at home while Mr. Thomas served with the American Expeditionary Force in France. The photograph was probably taken in 1918. Mrs. Thomas is the well-known authoress, Michael Strange

Strap shoes for children appeared early in 19th century. I have first noted them worn by boys with skeleton suits. I am not sure who developed this style of shoe or just why it was considered suitable for children. Strap shoes were generally worn by girls and young boys still in dresses, often with white stockings or socks. Strap shoes were even worn by older boys still wearing dresses. This fashion appears to have been particularly common in France. It was also worn by English boys, although I not sure how common it was. They might also be worn by younger boys with outfits such as sailor suits or tunic suits. The strap shoes during this period were always black. The more expensive ones were patent leather. The were worn inside the home or for parties and other occasions. The rough steets of the era, especially in America meant that they were not suitable for outdoors wear.

Chronology

I am not sure who developed this style of shoe or just why it was considered suitable for children. The style itself has ancient origins and a shoe with a open front and crossbar was widely worn in the Middle Ages by both men and women, it was not at the time, however, considered a child's style. Strap shoes for children appeared early in 19th century. I have first noted them worn by boys with skeleton suits. I am not sure who developed this style of shoe or just why it was considered suitable for children. The style itself has ancient origins and a shoe with a open front and crossbar was widely worn in the Middle Ages by both men and women, it was not at the time, however, considered a child's style.

Terminology

Strap shoes are named for the strap or bar that crosses the foot to close the shoes. Straps shoes are also referred to as closed-toe sandals. Clothing catalogs and advertisements have interchangeably used both terms. For the purposes of HBC we have chosen to separate the two terms. We use strap shoe for a dress or regular use shoe and closed-toe sandal for a casual play sandal. Here quite fratkly we are unsure how to classify school sandals. We will archive these shoes based on our assessment of which category is involved, regardless of the term that may be used in the catalog or advertisement. Related shoes like "T"-strap shoes or double-bar sandals also are named after the strap. There are, however, other names such as "Mary Janes". HBC had thought that Mary Jane, the little girl in the Buster Brown commic strip and films, was Buster's girl friend. A HBC reader tells us, however, that she was Buster's sister. Interestingly Buster himself is often pictured wearing the same strap shoes as Mary Jane, but it was her name that was used for the shoes. Mary and Buster both wore the strap shoe until the shoe company started making a boy's oxford. At which point the company started calling the strap shoes "Mary Janes". The term was only used in America and perhaps Canada. It is worth noting that while American boys generally stopped wearing strap shoes and closed-toe sandals at about this time, the style persisted as acceptable boys' wear in Europe for many more years. This decissiion to call strap shoes "Mary Janes" probably had an impact on the popularity of strap shoes and closed-toe sandals in America. We are not sure what other factors may have explained the different conventions which developed between Europe and America at this time.

Types

There are two major types of boys' strap shoes. The primary difference is the placement of the strap. We have note strap shoes with the strap placed at the ininstep and others woth the strap at the ankle. These different types were worn by both boys and girls through the 1910s. This began to change after World War I (1914-18) as strap shoes began to nbe seen as girls' shoes rather than children shoes, although younger boys continued to wear them. This grender convention was most pronounced in America. We rarely see the ankle strap shoes after World war I. While these were the basic styles of single-bar strap shoes, there were other styles that varied the number of straps.

Styling

The basic difference in style was that some strap shoes had the strap at the instep while others had them placed higher at the ankle. We have used this difference and the number of straps to define the type of shoes rather than the styling. There were also styling differences. While the style of basic strap shoes has been fairly standard, we have noted some differences. The most basic stylistic device was the chape of the shoe. Often the toe for children's shoe was rounded, but we have noted somw with pointed toes. An example here is the shoes worn by William Dougherty, an American boy, about 1905. There were a variery of embelishments over time. These have included adding ribbons, adding poms, cuting eyelets into the shoe, and a variety of other modifications. Some shoes had designs of colored stones or plastic set in the leather. Generally these stylistic changes were for the strap shoes worn by girls,but some boys in thate-19th and eaely 20th centuries also wore them. Girls strap shoes are made in a much greater variety of styles. HBC has noted, however, boys wearing the strap shoes with ribbons and poms through the 1910s.

Material

Quality strap shoes are primarily leather shoes. Shoes made for dresswear might be made of patent leather. We have noted strap shoes from the eraly 20th century made of canvas. We are not sure how common this was. Some modern shoes have an almost plastic look about them. One American contributor remembers seeing girls wearing velvet strap shoes in the 1960s, he paricularly remenmbers the red ones.

Closures

Early strap shoes had button closures. Buttons were in fact used until realtively recently. The strap shoes worn by children as late as the 1940s still had button closures. Some expensive shoes for rich children still do. Almost all strap shoes now have small buckle closures. The closures were placed at different locations on the shoe depending on the design of the shoe. Presumably buttons and buckels were used on shoe styles for small children because they were easy for small children to handle and te child did not have to know how to tie his shoe laces--a difficult undertaking for younger children.

Heels

We do not have much information about the heels used on strap shoes. We have noted a few catalog ads where the shoes were offered with or without heels. I think the normal convention was a very low heel. Some sandals I think came without heels, but normall strap shoes came with heels, albeit low heels. We have seem some strap shoes with substantial heels, but most of these shoes seem to appear in commercial post cards or other costume events rather than the normal strap shoes that children wore.

Colors

Strap shoes for formal occasions were mostly black and made of patent leather. HBC has noted mostly black strap shoes through the early 20th century. Assessing the color, however, is somewhat complicated by the black and white photography of the early 20th century. Clothing catalogs in the early 1920s were mostly offering black strap shoes. We have noted some white shoes made of canvas in the early 1900s. HBC believes that colored strap shoes did not appear until after World War I in the late 1920s and eraly 1930s, but this needs to be confirmed. Some strap shoes were also made in white. Less common were srap shoes in various shades of red and blue. These colored shoes were motly for younger boys and for less formal occasions then formal black and white strap shoes. Here social class factors were influential. Some mothers from affluent families used red strap shoes as a kind of play shoe, but by the 1960s we have noted them being used as a kind of casual dressy style.

Socks

Strap shoes in the 19th century were worn with bock short stocks and long stockings. White socks were the most common, but they were also worn with dark stockings. After the turn of the century, they were increasingly worn with white, often three-quarter length socks. They were also worn with long over the knee stockings. After World War I (1914-18), white kneesocks became increasingly common.

Conventions

Strap shoes today are primarily seen as a dressy shoe style. This was also the case in the 19th century. Starap shoes were at first worn by younger children as an inside shoe. They would not stand up to rought outdoorwear. Boys, even younger boys in the late 19th century wearing Fauntleroy suits, might wear heavier boot like shoes. SDtarp shoes became increasinglu common for formal wear in the eraly 20th centiry. After World War I (1914-18), strap shoe styles appeared fior play. They were often red, brown , and blue and work with white socks. By the 1940s, however, they were increasingly being seen as a dress shoe although younger children might still wear them as a play shoe.

Usage in the 19th Century

Strap shoes were worn with a variety of different styles of clothes.

Fauntleroy suits

When Fauntleroy suits appeared in the mid-1880s, strap shoes were at first were not widely worn with the suits. Far more common with classic Fauntleroy suits were sturdier boot-type shoes, especially in America. Gradually as the turn of the century approached, dressier shoes such as strap shoes, pumps, or buckle shoes were worn with Fauntleoy suits. After the turn of the century strap shoes were more commonly worn with Fauntleroy suits, often with white socks of varying lengths. For formal wear, however, dark stockings were more common.

Other clothing styles

Stap shoes in the early 20th century were not just worn with very formal outfits such as Fautleroy suits. They might be worn with a wide variety of less formal clothes, although generally dressy clothes. Stap shoes might be worn with sailor suits, Buster Brown suits, tunic suits, short pants suits, and a variety of other outfits. The shoes during this period were still almost entirely black. They were generally worn with white socks and stockings.

National Trends

Considerable variations in usage occurred in different countries. Interesingly, major differences are observeable even in countries where boys wore rather similar clothing. Conventions for starp shoes have changed overtime as well as their popularity in different countries. They were widely worn in America, but were even more common in several European countries. The chronology, gender, age, and convebntions for these shoes have varied significantly from country to country. They may be most associated with English boys becise of A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin (and in recent years Disney). They were widely worn, however, in several other countries. Strap shoes may be most associated with English boys becise of A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin (and in recent years Disney). English boys wore strap shoes in the early 19th century, often with skeleton suits. Except for very young children, often in dresses, they appear to have declined in popularity . They appear again in the early 20th century, first as dressy shoes with Fauntleroy suits and other formal outfits. By the 1920s they began to be worn as play shoes, especially during the summer. By the 1930s, however, only girls and younger boys were wearing them. Older boys more commonly wore sandshoes with the "T" bar center piece that became known as school sandals. Strap shoes may have been more popular in France and than any other European countries. As in England they were worn with skeleton suits. There were also commonly worn by boys still in dresses before breeching. In the late 19th century and early 20th century strap shoes with Fauntleroy suits were common. As in England, after World War I (1914-18), strap shoes began to be worn as play shoes. Unlike England, older boys comtinued to wear them in the 1930s-50s. Pictures of boys at school schow French boys in both strap shoes and single "T" bar type school sandals. I have only limited information on Germany. Strap shoes appear to have been less popular than in France, but they were also worn by German boys. It was boys most common for boys from wealthy families, most common during the 1930s and 40s. They were also occasionally seen in the 1950s. They are sometimes pictured in strap shoes and white kneesocks. It was not just younger boys wearing them. Occasional images how that even school age boys and occasionally younger teenagers wore them. Strap shoes were widely worn by Italian boys. In fact, strap shoes were marketed as Italian sandals in America. Unfortunatley I have little information on Italy at this time. Strap shoes were worn by American boys, following much the same pattern as in Europe. They were never as popular, however, in America as in Europe. This was in part because short pants which were generally worn with strap shoes were not as popular in America. They were worn with skeleton suits in the early 19th century and by the turn of the 20th century with Fauntleroy suits and with other outfits like Buster Brown suits and sailor suits. They were dressy shoes until the 1920s when they were worn by younger boys for play. They were still worn by American boys, mostly boys from affluent families, in the 1930s, but were much less common in the 1940s. Some boys occasionally wore them for very formal occasions even into the 1960s, but this was not common.


Figure 3.--Prince William and Prince Harry wore strap shoes in the 1980s, both for play and for more formal occasions.

Modern Usage

Children after World War I, both boys and girls, might wear strap shoes. They were worn for both dress occasions and for play:
Dress: Strap shoes for dress occasions were almost always black, although some white shoes also appeared. They were usually worn during this period with white socks, both ankle and knee socks. Three-quarter length were now rarely seen. Strap shoes were worn with both shorts and kilts. Strap shoes were fairly common for younger boys in the 1920s, but increasingly less so by the 1940s, especially in America. Increasingly they were worn only by the youngst bnoys or for formal occasions such as weddings. The shoe has become the quintessential dress shoe for a little girl shoe. A pair of white tights or kneesocks, a frilly dress, perhaps a whote pinafore, a black patent leather strap shoes were a classic outfit for American girls as well as girls in other countries.
Play: Children in the 1920s began wearing strap shoes for informal occasions and play. Styles varied. Some wore the single trap Mary Jane style, while older boys wore the "T" strap school sandal style. Colors varied. The most common color for play were red strap shoes, but light and dark blues ones were also worn. The classic drawings of Christopher Robin, for example, show him playing in smocks and strap shoes. While this style has virtually disappeared for boys, Diane did outfit William and Harry in them during the 1980s. The boys wore strap shoes of different colors, red light blue, and dark blue. This was mostlty before the boys started pre-prep school and began socializing with boys their own age who were more intuned with the popular culture.

Terminology

Strap shoes have been referred to in various ways. Some have called them simply buckle-strap shoes. As opposed to the button-strap version of the same style. I've heard other women refer to them as baby doll shoes. I believe the British reffered to the colored play versions as sandals. Strap shoes are now most commonly referred to as Mary Janes in America. This name appears to have come from Buster Brown's playmate in the popular comic strip. According to a writer in Harper's Bazaar, "Mary Janes" were named for the little girl in the Buster Brown comic strip. Of course Buster Brown himself wore these shoes, not just Mary Jane. Buster Brown became a trademarked named used by the Buster Brown Shoe Company in the United States. The term "Mary Janes" does not appear to used in Britain or other countries. The French refer to it as "chaussures Charles IX", "souliers Charles IX" or simply "des Charles IX". They were worn by boys until the 1950s.

Literary Character: Christopher Robin

Perhaps the most famous boy to wear strap shoes was Christopher Robin who wore smocks, short pants, and strap shoes in the original drawings for A.A. Milne's wonderful books. Walt Disney in an attemp to make Christopher more popular to an American audience began distributing cartoons and books with him in red sneakers rather than the original strap shoes. The latest Disney creations, however, have him back in his trademark strap shoes. Christopher's gingham smocks, however, are still a bit much for Disney.







HBC





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Created: June 29, 1998
Last updated: 11:13 PM 1/6/2009