Farewell, Adidas Sambas – what is next in footwear?

<span>One of the things that made the Samba so appealing was its sleekness.</span><span>Photograph: Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images</span>
One of the things that made the Samba so appealing was its sleekness.Photograph: Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

The Adidas Samba trainer was declared dead in the water this week, after the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was pictured wearing a pair. While observers pointed out the moral backwardness of cancelling a shoe based on an outing on a politician’s feet rather than longstanding evidence of workers in the sportswear giant’s supply chain being mistreated, the internet is suddenly full of people searching for their next step.

Sunak has since issued a “fulsome apology” and the Samba has seen continued popularity on online marketplaces such as StockX, with the ever-popular adidas x Wales Bonner Samba currently being traded at a 327% price premium. But, for many, the damage is done.

While no one is suggesting throwing away perfectly good shoes just because Sunak wore a similar pair, for those looking to retire their Sambas there are many more options.

One of the things that made the Samba so appealing was its sleekness. “Broadly speaking,” says Tom Barker, style editor of Highsnobiety, a fashion and culture website loved by sneakerheads, “we’re moving away from the old school chunky dad sneaker.” Now, he says, “we’re looking for something a lot thinner and a lot sleeker”.

For those wanting to be conservative with a small “c”, there are other Adidas trainers with similarly thin soles and slinky dimensions, such as the Gazelle. The only problem is that to the untrained eye they might be hard to tell apart from Sunak’s choice.

The Stan Smith would be the sustainable choice, with many a wardrobe across the country already home to a pair. A previous contender for the most ubiquitous shoe in Britain thanks in no small part to the designer Phoebe Philo, who wore them to take her post-shows bows when she was still designing at Céline, they have a similarly sleek silhouette and the ability to rest elegantly and subtly under a trouser leg. But, given the trend cycle is supposedly 20 years, it might be a little soon for that particular renaissance.

Related: Can Stan Smith trainers survive the attentions of Matt Hancock?

Fashion insiders are hailing the new collaboration between NY fashion brand Bode and Nike as producing the next “It-trainer”, a take on the Astro Grabber style from Nike’s archive. Already spotted on the feet of the model Kaia Gerber, despite not yet being released, it has the makings of a shoe that a lot of people will find something to love about. “It’s another example of these very, very thin sneakers,” says Barker. “It’s Nike basically trying to keep up with that demand.”

It seems to be working – Drew Haines, the director of merchandising at StockX, has already seen a lot of interest and Katie Abel, the executive editor of Footwear News, says: “It has all the right ingredients to be one of the biggest shoes of the year. Of-the-moment menswear designer Emily Adams Bode Aujla is putting a fresh point of view on the 1970s cleat model – which has never been re-released – at a time when the Swoosh needs to recapture the spotlight. Its distinctive waffle soles certainly stand out.”

Haines says: “I think the brand that’s really popping out over the last six to nine months for us has been Asics.” He also namechecks Onitsuka, a sub-brand of Asics, and specifically the Tiger Mexico 66. Worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Barker worries that in the yellow it already “might be getting to a point of people seeing it too much now”, but there are other colours available.

Leaning more towards gorpcore than elegance, Salomon trainers are already a favourite in fashion circles. Rihanna wore a red pair from the label’s collaboration with MM6 Maison Margiela for her Superbowl performance, so they come with credibility, even if they are a bulkier design.

Related: The highs and lows of an It-shoe: how Adidas Sambas took over the world

Trainers to one side, there are of course other types of shoes that can fill the void. Abel says: “Customers are looking for versatility and shoes that will take them from day to night,” adding: “Sneakers have mostly disappeared from the top runways, at least for the moment.”

“Loafers continue to drive new excitement for many consumers,” she says. Sturdy and practical, they might not have the casual appeal of a trainer but they will keep your feet dry. Then there is your posh friend’s uncle’s favourite, the deck shoe, which looks set to enjoy some time in the sun this year. The Larry David favourite, Ecco, is also enjoying some buzz thanks to a new drop from its collaboration with the designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi.

Mary Janes and ballet pumps are enjoying a big boom, too. They also have that magic sauce: Philo’s nod of approval. One of the latest designs released by her new eponymous label, the prices are astronomical but this is more about Philo as tastemaker than purveyor of something to actually buy. While they won’t have the arch support of a trainer, they do offer a slim silhouette akin to a Samba.

Haines also notes mass growing interest in Uggs, Birkenstock and Crocs. Design-wise, he says, they veer from the Samba, but they fit with the mould for an emphasis on comfort that has remained in the post-pandemic years.

Stepping away from Sambas? Here are some of your options:

Pivot to another trim Adidas trainer, such as the Gazelle, the Spezial, the Country and the SL 72, or take this as your opportunity to slip into Onitsuka’s Tiger Mexico 66 for something a little different. Sites such as Depop and Vinted will be full of secondhand versions still in decent nick.

Look for a fresh colour of an old favourite – again, secondhand sites are home to a whole pond’s worth of new and very nearly new – or elevate an amphibious staple via Simone Rocha’s bejewelled collaboration, out this week.

From M&S to Gucci, there is a loafer for most feet. Pair with bright or even white socks and perhaps keep plasters to hand until they are broken in – they may never be as comfortable as a trainer but they do mean business. Ebay is a treasure trove of secondhand Russell and Bromley styles.

Ballet flats and Mary Janes
The most buzzy minimal flats at the moment are made from mesh – the cult ones belonging to hyper-expensive brands Alaia and The Row. But if chewing gum and dog poo are a realistic concern, Cos has some slightly sturdier models and Repetto offers the classics. Toe cleavage is back.

Deck shoes
More New England-chic than trainer-cool, the boat or deck shoe is coming in on the next tide. Sebago offers the prototype, but John Lewis stocks a topper’s worth of other brands offering the Massachusetts feel, minus the corn chowder.