Julia Roberts' Footwear in That Iconic Notting Hill Scene Ruins The Whole Thing
Once you see this, you will never unsee it.
It took me nearly 20 years, but last February, I finally sat down, wrapped myself in a blanket, and watched Notting Hill for the first time. I admittedly knew very little before pressing play, other than the fact that the classic rom-com stars Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, and that Roberts has a famous monologue where she’s “just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Overall, I thought it was feel-good love story: the famous Anna Scott (Roberts) meets and falls for an average citizen William Thacker (Grant), but because of their different lifestyles, drama ensues (hope it's not a spoiler to say that it all works out in the end).
Of course, having previously seen Notting Hill on a handful of best movie and best movie style lists, it was hard not to watch with a critical eye. For instance, in one of the earlier scenes, it bugged me that Will’s coffee stain is dark, then light, then dark again, all within a matter of minutes. (Then again, even Game of Thrones has continuity errors.) However, the thing that confused me the most? During that aforementioned monologue — the iconic rom-com scene that makes this movie an iconic rom-com — Anna arrives at Will's book store dressed in a baby-blue ribbed sweater, an ombré T-shirt, a pencil skirt, and … a pair of flip-flops.
Um, flip-flops? For the movie scene? Why had no one mentioned this to me before?!
The moment has weirdly stuck with me, mostly because, aside from this seemingly random footwear choice, I loved all of Notting Hill’s quintessential late-'90s outfits. There was Anna’s dark green leather suit, which she styled with a black beret and Vans — something I would wear tomorrow if given the chance. She also changed into a cute black crop-top and skirt set after the coffee incident, which reminds me of outfits Emily Ratajkowski would wear in 2019. Even Will has fashion wins, including those round-frame glasses, which he famously misplaces before heading to the movies, forcing him to wear goggles instead. (Also, apparently I’m very attracted to a young Hugh Grant wearing glasses — who knew?) I just couldn't understand why, during this important moment where Anna is asking Will for a second chance, she suddenly becomes super casual, and thinks flip-flops are a good idea.
To me, flip-flops are the ultimate casual shoe. They're what your dad wears when he's heading to the community pool, or what you throw on when you have to walk the dog on the weekend. Growing up in New York, I learned early on that flip-flops aren't a smart choice when walking around any kind of city — you risk losing a shoe in the dirtiest, grimiest of places, or submerging a full, naked foot in a warm, days-old puddle. Flip-flops are what you wear to the beach. Flip-flops are shower shoes. Flip-flops, to me, are not what you wear when you messed up, and you desperately want to win back the love of your life.
I've tried to think about this logically from a character standpoint. Anna had just come from a movie set, and it’s possible that she wanted to slip into something comfortable after a full day on her feet. But, what about wedges or a strappy pair of sandals? Couldn’t she have worn those Vans again? Slides were also a pretty big trend around this time. Isn’t it likely that a famous, fashion-forward actress would have a pair of those laying around?
Eventually, my research on this topic led me to the truth: Julia Roberts didn't like her outfit for the scene, and ended up wearing her own clothes, instead — including those flip-flops — as screenwriter Richard Curtis told USA Today last year. She apparently felt the initial option was more of a costume, while this one was what "someone who is just normal" would wear. OK, I get the cardigan and the T-shirt. But does Roberts really think the world's most basic shoe is the best option for professing your love to someone? Is that what she thinks of us normals? That's a spiral for another day.
Nevertheless, this is a detail I can't unsee. In one of the most famous scenes, in one of the most famous rom-coms, one of the most famous actresses in the world isn't wearing something standout and designer, or even a timeless staple. Rather, she has on an item you could essentially buy in bulk from Old Navy — which I guess is iconic in its own way.