Get The Paradise look – fashion tips from the 19th century

Costume designer Joanna Eatwell gives RadioTimes.com her top tips on how to seek inspiration from BBC1's period drama

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BBC 1’s delicious new period drama, The Paradise, is a visual delight. From glistening chandeliers to diamond-dripping jewellery, the backdrop oozes glamour and luxury. But where would the characters be without their costumes?  Actor Emun Elliott (aka John Moray) is all too aware of the importance of appearance when it comes to acting in a period drama: “it all facilitates you stepping into character, so a lot of the work’s been done for you before you step onto set.”

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Here at RadioTimes.com we asked the production’s costume maestro Joanna Eatwell how she achieved the lovely, pastel-based Victorian look that makes our Tuesday nights feel oh so indulgent…

Ditch the Dark

“When we think of the Victorian era we get very bound up in the dark and the mourning,” says Joanna. “But I got really excited by this French painter – James Tissot – and his different approach to that age. You think of Victorians as wearing dark, rich textures all tied up with death and sadness – but Tissot brings light which is why all the costumes are much more radiant than you’d expect.”

Frame your face

When it comes to the simple uniforms you see Denise, Pauline, Clara and the other shopgirls wearing, they are designed to make their owners stand out from the ostentatious clientele. “You can pick them out in the crowd with all the beautiful colours on set,” says Joanna. “They are designed for you to see them at all times.” But the dour colours are in danger of drowning out the actresses – enter the cuff. “The cuff frames the face,” she explains, “throwing the emphasis on the girls’ complexions.” Using a simple piece of fabric can draw emphasis to all the right places. 

It’s all about the bottom…

But the face isn’t the only part of the body highlighted by Joanna’s sleek, black outfits. Joanna Vanderham – who plays newcomer Denise Lovett – reveals, “the silk shopgirl’s dress is the most glamorous thing Denise has ever owned and there’s something very sexy about it.” Sexy comes in the form of the “cheeky little bows” Joanna has added – “it’s all about bottoms and bustles during this era, all the emphasis is there. That’s the part of the body they were fetishing…” 

First comes the corset

Working on a period drama often necessitates wearing a dreaded corset – “the underpinnings of God” – according to Joanna. “The dresses aren’t anything without the corset. The bum pads give you the bustle, the back flounce keeps everything flat at the front”… much to the discomfort of leading lady Elaine Cassidy, who plays spoilt landowner’s daughter Katherine Glendenning. “Physically it constrains you and you just want to sit down,” says actress Elaine Cassidy, “but sitting down is uncomfortable! You can’t eat that much (which I still haven’t learnt) and it prevents your food from going down – and it used to make women’s organs move around because they had these tiny little waists!”

Think thrifty

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Katherine represents the world of handmade seamstresses, says Joanna. “Everything is put on by hand, everything is incredibly decorated – she wouldn’t dream of being seen in a dress someone else might wear.” But rather than racking up huge bills, even a wealthy society girl like Katherine knew how to be thrifty: “You wouldn’t necessarily have every single thing brand new,” explains Joanna. “Fabrics were expensive, so you might have a base dress which your seamstress would take apart, re-trim and embellish, leaving you with a brand new dress.”