Like so many of us, I’ve been wearing ballet flats since I was a young girl, making it nearly 40 years that I’ve remained devoted to this classic footwear silhouette. And over the last year, there has been a true ballet flat renaissance. Both high-end designers and accessible retailers have these gorgeous shoes in their repertoire, and there’s one variation on the theme that has me positively bewitched: the Mary Jane ballet flat.
One of the things I love most about the style is how witchy these shoes are. I’ve found that vintage-style flats can feel a bit insipid, infantalizing or overly feminine, but today’s flats have a bit of an edge. It will come as a surprise to no one that my latest infatuation with this shoe style is a direct result of the gorgeous high-end offerings from brands like Miu Miu, Sandy Liang, The Row, Tory Burch and more. Once again, my expensive taste has come back to haunt me. It’s with these gorgeous yet pricey designer shoes in mind that I’m on a desperate hunt for more affordable versions. I want them to look expensive and as much like a pointe shoe as possible, with a dash of Victorian ghost — is that so much to ask?
Both ballet flats and Mary Janes have long cycled in and out of fashion, and the revival of the Indie Sleaze aesthetic may be behind this year’s explosive ballet flat craze. But the truth is, this ubiquitous style of women’s shoes has been around for as long as we can remember. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, a fashion historian and author, told HuffPost that ballet flats were fashionable shoes as far back as the 1820s. And after the turn of the century, women designers like Valentina and Claire McCardell made them popular everyday options. “They made sense during World War II when materials for shoes were hard to find and women were leading more active lifestyles,” Chrisman-Campbell said. “They were comfortable and informal without looking like athletic shoes or menswear.”
Chrisman-Campbell pointed to various people that helped renew public interest in this particular shoe style throughout the last century. Audrey Hepburn had hers custom-made by Salvatore Ferragamo and popularized them along with “ballet-length skirts.” Brigitte Bardot wore Repetto Cendrillon ballet flats in “And God Created Woman” in 1956. The miniskirt craze of the 1960s once again bolstered ballet flats’ popularity, as minis were almost always worn with low heels. Princess Diana, a ballet dancer, was famously taller than her husband and often wore French Sole ballet flats. Chrisman-Campbell pointed out that “in 2016, Rothy’s took the standard shape and updated it with sustainable, washable, recycled materials in eye-catching colors and patterns. Vogue called it ‘the perfect ballet flat.’”
For shoe-lovers, this is proof positive that investing in a gorgeous pair of ballet flats is worth it in the long run. But as much as I’d love to drop over a grand on Miu Miu’s exquisite pair, I must work with what I’ve got. Below, I’ve rounded up a wide range of Mary Jane ballet flats inspired by (and including) the pricey designer options that stole my heart. They come at a range of price points, so you can hop on the trend without breaking the bank. This updated spin on such a classic silhouette is sure to make the perfect addition to your spring wardrobe.
Reformation Bethany ballet flat
If you want a bit of embellishment on your flats, then take a look at these lovely shoes from Reformation. They come in two black options: one with silver studs around the upper perimeter of the shoe, and one without studs. Both have an adjustable buckle closure that adds a bit of flair regardless of which shoe you decide to go with. They’re available in sizes 5 to 11.
Cole Haan Bridge Mary Jane ballet flat
These shoes look nearly identical to the ones I wore to my piano recital in 1994, and I mean that in the best way possible. Made with shiny patent leather, these classic Mary Jane flats from Cole Haan capture everything that’s delightful about this lovely shoe style. Best of all, they come with arch support for maximum comfort — a must when you’re on your feet and walking a fair bit. They’re available in sizes 5 to 11.
Free People Diana double strap flats
Go a bit farther with a pair of double-strapped ballet flats. Available in black or orange in sizes 6 to 11, these flats also have an open back for an unexpected slide silhouette. They feature a square toe and leather-laced detailing at the front and along the sides that gives them a carefree, summery look.
Sam Edelman Michaela Mary Jane flat
Available in four different colors, these Sam Edelman flats work beautifully with everything from a swingy skirt to casual jeans. They have a very similar aesthetic to the Le Monde Baryl option further down this list, but at a fraction of the price. You can snag them in sizes 5 to 8.5.
The Row Ava Mary Jane ballerina flats
These holy grail flats from The Row are perfectly understated and devastatingly chic, just what you’d expect from the Olsen twins’ spectacular luxury brand. Available in sizes 5 to 12, these Mary Jane-style ballet flats don’t come with many bells and whistles, and their simplicity highlights the shoe’s high-quality materials and impeccable design. They’re made with soft and supple leather, with a flat heel, round toe and buckle strap.
Tory Burch Puffed Up Mary Jane ballet flat
Give your look a futuristic spin with these Tory Burch flats. They have a puffy strap that looks positively alien when contrasted with silver leather. They’re soft, sporty and luxurious all in one. They are also, unfortunately, on the brink of selling out, which means you need to go and grab one for yourself ASAP. They’re currently available in sizes 5, 5.5, 6 and 7.5.
Sandy Liang Mary Jane pointe shoes
Could these flats be any sweeter? They caught my eye last fall and haven’t left the inner recesses of my brain since. The pink is by far the most popular shade, consistently flying off the shelves. But these flats come in a cool range of five different colors, with the black option available in both satin and leather in sizes 5 to 41. Grab a pair while you still can and watch those compliments roll in. These babies couldn’t be more pointe shoe-esque.
Maison Margiela Tabi-toe Mary Jane flats
Margiela’s controversial Tabi design is now available as an absolutely fabulous Mary Jane flat. These ultra-trendy split-toe shoes are not for the faint of heart. They’re eccentric and put a non-conformist spin on the traditional Mary Jane silhouette. They’re ideal for anyone with a lot of cash to burn, and they’re available in sizes 35 to 41.
Charles & Keith lace and mesh Mary Jane ballerina flats
Elegant, flirty and unexpected, these lace shoes are as practical as they are sophisticated. The feminine silhouette is complemented by a sweet button closure strap. These shoes are available in sizes 5 to 9 in black and 5 to 11 in pink.
Alohas Sway flats
The delicate tie-strap detailing, square toe and top front seam on these adorable Alohas flats make them look like they just came off a runway. They’re made with soft and high-quality leather that gives these shoes the appearance of being much more expensive than they actually are, and are available in sizes 35 to 42.
Miu Miu Satin Bow ballerina flats
Save the best for last? They are the Mary Jane ballet flats of the decade. Available in black, white and baby pink, they’re fashioned to look like pointe shoes with a designer twist. They feature an elastic strap featuring the Miu Miu logo, a bow-tie accent and a rounded toe that looks ready for leaps and twirls. If you’ve been saving up your pennies, it doesn’t get much better than this. They’re available in sizes 5.5 to 12.