Has Samba Anxiety exploded into a full-blown panic attack?

This week, the Adidas Samba—already the defining sneaker of our age—added a new fan. A fan in a very lofty position. On Thursday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared in an interview at 10 Downing Street to promote his tax policies. He wore trim navy trousers and a white button-down—sans tie, in keeping with world leader style trends. And on his feet? The same pair of sneakers that Frank Ocean, fashion-heads, TikTok influencers—and most likely you—own and wear.

The reaction was swift and, naturally, highly polarized. “Absolutely unforgivable,” wrote one X user. “Rishi Sunak is so cool. New sambas and the possibility he will be wearing a hoodie later,” went a somewhat perplexing follow-up.

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The surprising flex isn’t exactly new territory for Sunak. When the former banker became PM in 2022, GQ asked whether he was Britain’s first hypebeast head-of-state. It was a legitimate question, as Sunak already had the hang of how to use designer fashion to indicate that he was a rule-breaker of a new political generation. He entered office in suits slimmer than Jared Kushner’s, which he paired with Prada loafers, Canada Goose parkas, and “menswear bracelets.” Away from the cameras, he reportedly attended budget meetings in Palm Angels slides. Many in the public, of course, saw another out-of-touch rich guy. But others considered Sunak’s modern style a breath of fresh air. Our GQ colleagues across the pond declared him an “unlikely style hero.”

But in adopting the Samba, the conservative politician touched a particularly sensitive nerve, as far as these things go. As Sunak might be finding out, the sneaker occupies a peculiar place in the current menswear zeitgeist. It’s one of very few items of clothing that is unimpeachably stylish and also completely ubiquitous, which has turned it into a complex symbol of taste.

The Samba has a long history, and many late millennials have a nostalgic recollection of the sneaker from ’90s soccer camps. But it wasn’t until around 2022 that the design went intergalactic. That was when we saw the Summer of Samba, when the trend spread at warp speed from fashion insiders and celebrities like A$AP Rocky and Kaia Gerber to TikTok to anyone with around $100 to spend on a pair of cute, newly-clouted shoes. Like a Carhartt jacket or pair of Levi’s 501s, the key to the Samba’s universal appeal is its clarity of design, durability, and value. But they were also novel, a classic that had become a sleeper hit, waiting to be unearthed by influential style tribes. And when they were, it didn’t take long for the Samba to become inescapable. The sneaker was such a surprise hit that Adidas couldn’t make enough of them.

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