Classic Mary Janes for children are typically made of black leather or patent leather, have one thin strap fastened with a buckle or button, a broad and rounded toebox, low heels, and thin outsoles. Among girls, Mary Janes are traditionally worn with pantyhose or socks, and a dress or a skirt and blouse. Among boys (less common), Mary Janes are traditionally worn with socks, short trousers, and a shirt.
Although generally associated with young girls nowadays, and to a lesser extent teenage girls and women, Mary Janes have also been worn by males throughout history. To cite a few examples:
- Some men during the Renaissance, including kings Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France and Charles IX of France, etc. (as can be seen in paintings from that era).
- Some men and boys in Imperial China (as can be seen in old photographs/postcards).
- Some boys since the 19th century, particularly in the first half of the 20th century (as can be seen in old photographs/postcards or Buster Brown comics and films), and to a lesser extent after World War II (mainly in elite or high-profile families: John F. Kennedy's son at the former's funeral, British princes William and Harry in the late 1980s, etc.).
Children's shoes secured by a strap over the instep and fastened with a buckle or button appeared in the early 19th century. Originally worn by both sexes, they began to be perceived as being mostly for girls in the 1930s in North America and the 1940s in Europe. They were also popular with women in the 1920s.
Today, Mary Janes for children are often considered semi-formal or formal shoes, appropriate for school, religious ceremonies, weddings, visits, and birthday parties for example. More modern styles are also worn in casual settings, however: playgrounds, shopping centers, sports (Mary Jane sneakers), etc. Although less popular than in the past, Mary Janes remain a timeless classic of children's fashion and, for many people, a symbol of girlhood.
Moreover, Mary Janes are a preferred accessory of many traditional or folk costumes, such as those of the flamenco female dancer and of the typical woman in Mao's China.