Why Starmer and Farage are now using trainers to send a message, like Sunak

Politicians Keir Starmer, Nigel Farage and Rishi Sunak have all recently donned Adidas trainers
Politicians Keir Starmer, Nigel Farage and Rishi Sunak have all recently donned Adidas trainers

Spare a thought for the Adidas press office. They had only just weathered the considerable, Category 5 storm that was Rishi Sunak wearing the brand’s Adidas Samba trainers, and then had to face the news that his fierce opponent Sir Keir Starmer had donned a pair of the German sneakers, opting for the Gazelle variety with their signature tri-stripe to visit the FA headquarters.

And then, rather astonishingly, Nigel Farage was photographed in them too – in his own grab for attention on social media to show that he too is “down with the kids”. Does any Gen Z sneakerhead want to be seen in the same trainers as the 60-year-old Brexiteer-in-chief?

nigel farage gazelles
After Rishi Sunak stepped out in his Adidas Samba trainers, Nigel Farage wore Adidas Gazelles in a social media video, posted yesterday - YouTube/Nigel Farage

Luckily for Adidas, it has a 130-year history of weathering storms (its founding brothers were Nazis), although this latest run of political men using its brand to send their own messages must be alarming. Association with the “wrong” public figures, whoever they may be, can send sales plummeting.

Starmer’s style journey in wearing Adidas Gazelles is a great deal less fraught than Sunak’s – trainers are something of a mainstay for the Labour leader, who still plays five-a-side football regularly. “These are not Sunak style, these are my old Gazelles,” said Starmer. “This is because you’ll see no end of politicians in suit and tie walking onto a football pitch and trying to play football with ordinary shoes on. It doesn’t work. If I’m coming to the playing ground, I’m going to wear something that I can actually kick a ball with.”

Such was the Samba-gate fallout that Sunak felt obliged to apologise to acolytes of the trainer style, horrified that the one of the least popular PMs in living memory was adopting their choice of footwear in a possible attempt to appear “in touch”.

Rishi Sunak in Sambas last week. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Adidas at this difficult time" said one wag on social media
Rishi Sunak wearing Sambas – he later 'felt obliged to apologise to acolytes of the trainer style', writes Doig - X, formerly Twitter

Footwear – and trainers in particular – is a thorny area for politicians. Michael Foot might have caused a storm by wearing his so-called “donkey jacket” at the Cenotaph in 1981, but more often than not it’s what politicians choose to put on their feet that reveals a great deal about them. Sunak has had a particularly bad run in this respect. In 2022, he chose to visit a building site in Teesside in £490 Prada loafers – real “man of the people” attire – and last year he wore clodding great Timberland boots that garnered press attention for swamping his diminutive frame.

As Chancellor he wore a pair of £95 Palm Angels slides in Number 11. For any brand that strives for the intangible mystique of “cool”, nothing kills the allure faster than a political association.

In 2006, The Telegraph’s Christopher Howse laid into David Cameron’s favourite trainers, the Converse All Stars with velcro straps, commenting that they had become fiercely fashionable for “no rational reason”. During his time as PM, Cameron also raised eyebrows for his crusty old holiday loafers.

Theresa May, like her predecessor David Cameron, is a fan of Converse All Stars
Theresa May, like her predecessor David Cameron, is a fan of Converse All Stars - PA/Alamy

Tony Blair was faithful to Church’s brogues – a controversial choice for such an onerous role, as they’re considered the least formal of all structured footwear – while cult brand Veja, famed for its vegan leather – must have recoiled in horror at the sight of Matt Hancock grinning in a pair of Veja trainers.

Boris Johnson got off lightly in this regard, because he never tried to look “relevant” – this is a man who used to go on 5k jogs around St James’s Park wearing formal shirts – and his shoes followed; loveworn, raggedy Oxfords, worn with novelty socks, that looked ready to break at any point (the symbolism was almost poetic).

President Joe Biden matches a navy suit with Hoka Transport trainers, giving him unwitting hipster kudos
President Joe Biden matches a navy suit with Hoka trainers, giving him unwitting fashion kudos - Reuters

Stateside, President Joe Biden recently raised headlines – and concerns – for opting for outdoorsy Hoka Transport trainers, which looked rather correctional (but accidentally stylish, worn with a suit for extra fashion kudos). It follows a shift over the last few years in incorporating trainers into more formal environs; worn with suits in particular, as casualwear becomes the mainstay. You could call it a hangover from the pandemic, where ease and comfort became the status quo. These days, you’re as likely to find a man wearing On Running trainers as you are his trusty old Oxfords.

Back in Blighty, Keir Starmer has deliberately and deftly veered away from labels – his few forays into branded clothing have consisted of more everyman Hugo Boss and Stone Island – and, like his Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, takes a more “working man” approach to his style. Black shirts, for instance, and always unbuttoned, worn with jeans.

As for his footwear choices, Starmer has stayed loyal to Adidas throughout his public appearances; last year he wore a sportier pair to negotiate migration policies in the Netherlands, while in 2022, aged 60, he wore Adidas trainers to play football. At least he’s consistent. In more formal settings, Starmer favours classic black Derbys or Oxfords – perhaps deliberately so, to ensure the attention isn’t focused on his outre footwear but his message. He’s watched the Adidas-clad missteps of Sunak and learned.

Liz Truss arrives at the 2022 Conservative Party Conference wearing chunky white Reiss trainers
Liz Truss arrives at the 2022 Conservative Party Conference wearing white Reiss trainers - PA/Alamy

Of course, no politician can hold a sartorial candle to Winston Churchill and his particular panache when it came to footwear. The wartime PM was fond of slip-on shoes from bootmaker George Cleverly; far easier to get ready for action swiftly in times of crisis, and had a particular taste for raffish evening slippers. In 2021, a monogrammed pair by 20th-century shoemaker N Tuczek embroidered with his initials sold at auction for nearly £40,000.

Will any of these more recent footwear faux pas be history worthy? Might Sunak’s Sambas or Starmer’s Gazelles one day sell for thousands? Or will they instead just continue to repel, embarrassing trainer fans like a fusty old teacher trying to show they’re down with the kids?


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