“They look like Comme il Fauts,” he said.
I could hear him staring gimlet-eyed at my feet, from all the way across the room. Nothing gets past men. At least, not when it comes to brand-new golden stilettos.
It was one of those rite-of-sexual-passage sentences that permanently brand themselves into the brain. Like, “why Miss Jones, you're beautiful,” or, “nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
There's something about Comme il Fauts.
When I began dancing tango, Comme il Faut was the status brand for women's tango shoes (and, judging from the current prices on their web-site, they still are). When I saw them, ruffled and ribboned and coquettish on the big girls' feet, they said to me of their owners, “I am an awesome dancer, I am in the know, I am consciously aware of being dead sexy, I am beautiful, I am popular, all the men want to sleep with me, I have perfect dance technique, I am sophisticated, and I probably speak perfect Spanish too.”
That is what they said to me back then.
They were a gateway to a new understanding of what it meant to be a woman. They flip-flopped my rules of which parts of the psyche must and must not be put on public display. They
taught me about desire and coveting and yearning, because we all desired them, we all coveted them, and we all yearned for them, handmade leather loreleis, singing their siren songs to we ladies, jewels of promise and seduction.
I did not come from a world where dance shoes looked like peacock versions of dress-up shoes. I came from a world where dance shoes were beige or black and supple and were hyper-designed to work just like race-cars and could not possibly be confused with “real” shoes and did not attract attention and that was the end of the story. They were only worn by professional dancers. These “Comme il Fauts” were amazing technicolour dreamthings that I saw on lots of feet at milongas. Did this mean that all these women were professional dancers? I assumed it meant they were all close to it, or, they could be except they chose to spend a little more time being rocket scientists and that ate into their would-otherwise-be-professional-dancer time.
I had been told by people whom I assumed knew best that they were the best tango shoes
for women, that they were what the best dancers wore. And since I occasionally saw them on Roxana Suarez's feet, I assumed this must be true.
I also assumed that I could not have them until I was as big a girl as I assumed the big girls were. I assumed they were a special Girl Scout Badge that was only imparted to the deserving few, that had to be earned through years of hard work. I assumed they were like pointe shoes: you don't get them until you've put in years in the soft slippers.
I assumed wrong.
It turns out they sell them to anyone who can pay. I had longed for a pair of my own the way a cat longs for a pigeon on the other side of the window or a code monkey longs for Lara
Croft, and then one day at a festival I lost my mind completely at the mesmerizing sight of a table of glittering shoes, beaming and beckoning like Ali Baba's treasure. There were only a few people there who knew me. Suddenly I didn't care that I was just a baby and didn't “deserve” them yet. I didn't care that I assumed I would look ridiculous in everyone's eyes, like a child dressing up in her mother's shoes. I didn't care that I would probably fall all over the place and that they weren't meant for a gringa baby like me, they were meant for exotic dark-eyed women who knew how to dance and knew about sex and men and had come out of the womb hablando castellano.
All I cared about was that I had to have them and that was the way things were.
And I put them on and they were golden down to their golden heels and magical golden soles, and they actually fit my difficult feet, which was proof right there that they were enchanted objects made by fairies. I felt like I had stepped into a fairy tale, and finally, I could at least steal
the costume of a dancing princess in magic gold dancing slippers.
….When I stepped onto the dance floor, I discovered they truly were enchanted objects, because, miraculously, I was suddenly dancing better! I assumed everyone was laughing at me
for daring to look silly in big-girl shoes I didn't deserve, but, I thought, “I will just wear them this one night out here far away from home, like Cinderella, and then I will go back to my ordinary
But I did not. I wore my magic gold shoes to my next lesson...and if I could mark a specific
moment as “the moment I became a tanguera,” that was it. Buckling that dainty little gold ankle strap within the confines of a dance studio, not a party, said to me, “these are my everyday
life tools now.”
Often when we present ourselves with an answer, the question soon follows. The life that required handmade gold high heels as everyday tools fell as suddenly and eagerly into place as if it had been waiting for a dam to break. I became an It Girl. I became a confident extrovert, or perhaps had always been one and just needed the right milieu to blossom.
For a while I lived my Comme il Faut life. Appearances. I was a starlet among starlets. We were a gay mad crowd of beautiful people, with our important parties and our important scandals and our important bright chatter and our important neverending whirl of confetti and glitter and cheap champagne. F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved and understood us. And there was a little dancing too.
I was everywhere.
I was showy. I was exciting. Everyone wanted me. I wore a different silk frock every night and I practiced and I went to class and I thought this was what tango was.
Well...this was what Comme il Faut tango was.
Here's the thing about Comme il Faut.
They're not that great, they lack heart and technique, and they're chiefly for show.
Their advertising says they're specifically engineered for tango, and this is true, but the engineering job itself is...meh. It's mediocre. It's not really thought through. It's not really specific. It's not really optimized. It's slack and half-assed, with bonus points thrown on for glitz. The mechanics and physics of a Comme il Faut shoe are not particularly good. They're not particularly aware, they're not particularly chosen, and they're not particularly helpful. If you're Roxana Suarez, this is fine, because you don't need any help from your shoes. But for the rest of us, they're about buying into the fantasy of tango, not about putting in the real investment that a serious practice demands. They're about superficial thrills, not about the slow process of a life's practice. They're what you wear when you don't know who you are yet. Or they're what you wear when you know so absolutely exactly who you are that you can wear anything at all on your feet and it doesn't matter. But for the rest of us who are somewhere in the middle...no.
Here's the other thing about Comme il Faut.
I always thought it was funny that a brand whose image relied so heavily on its Argentineness would have a borrowed French name. But now it feels appropriate. Borrowing the French is a way of saying, “this thing is special, it's not really part of our real lives, it's better, it's fancy.” Which is how we here in the US often approach tango, and I had to go to BA to discover that in
Argentina, none of that is true, and a milonga is a much more beautiful experience when this thing is not special, it's just part of our real unbetter unfancy lives. Also, borrowing the French makes things feel a little...cute. And Comme il Fauts are definitely cute. Oh, look at those cute little feet, all dressed up for sex, oh, we mean dancing!
And here's the other other thing about Comme il Faut.
All those colours.
All those patterns. All those textures. The gold lamé ruffles and the purple satin ankle straps and the scarlet patent leather t-straps and the neon polka dots and the op-art zigzagging stripes and the lace and the scarlet and gold soles....
Yep. They're fun. Go ahead. Enjoy.
Unless you are Roxana Suarez, they will mark you as someone at a certain early point in their journey. Which, since that's where you are, is just fine. But I just thought I should tell you.
Because where we're really going isn't about turquoise lizard-skin at all.
Where we're really going, we don't need any special brand of shoe, we don't even need shoes at all. But if we do happen to have shoes on our feet, it's just amazing how, 99.44% of the time, dance shoes are beige or black and supple and hyper-designed to work just like race-cars and cannot possibly be confused with “real” shoes. And they're irrelevant. And that's the real end of the story.