Sophie Heawood: Hilda Ogden: an Audrey Hepburn for the Noughties

A salute to the moving spirit of Corrie Chic
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The Independent Online

Not somewhere you'd usually look for fashion inspiration, Coronation Street. The Rovers Return could put olives in its martinis, pastries on the bar and "Moon River" on the jukebox and it would still lag some distance behind the style of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Yet Corrie Chic is the new inspiration for Amy Winehouse, who this week ditched her bedraggled black beehive, cut her hair, bleached it and wrapped it up in a nice Hilda Ogden headscarf. And Hilda Ogden herself, or rather, 81-year-old Jean Alexander, who played the part of the put-upon char lady for more than 20 years, is thrilled.

Alexander told The Sun that her style came from the Second World War, when women were thrown into industry. "I used to see the young women on the trams and buses going to the munitions factory at Speke. They had their hair tied up and scarves like that to stop their fashionable long hair from getting caught up in the machinery at work. I'm delighted the headscarf is having a revival."

Of course, Hilda's headscarf was there really only to keep her rollers in, in perpetual expectation of some significant event for which she would finally unveil a full head of curls.

That day never came, because, when not busy reading teacups and admiring the "muriel" decorating her living room wall, she was cleaning. She was always cleaning. She resented the machinists in the factory for not being cleaners.

So the Ogden look speaks volumes on Winehouse, especially since she is just back from a Caribbean holiday that she apparently didn't enjoy much. Of course she didn't – a trip to Mustique is for ladies who lunch, not ladies who lurch, and the idea of doing a hard day's manual labour is clearly what Amy dreams of now.

She says she's ready to start a new album, and so the headscarf cries, "I am no longer hiding beneath my big, fake beehive (in fact, it drifted off to sea and a fisherman now uses it to ensnare red snapper). I'm cleaning up my act and I'm ready to go to work."

Of course, Coronation Street nowadays is full of clothes that fashion would call chavvy, because it's only ever in retrospect that working-class style becomes cool, once its functional value has been replaced with nostalgic kitsch. Denim jeans were worn only by labourers until Marlon Brando and James Dean made them glamorous on the silver screen. Japanese fashion took off in the 1980s when Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake were inspired by the functional workwear of fishermen.

Matelasse, which is the quilted padding effect on Chanel handbags so redolent of luxury, is an effect that Coco Chanel had seen on stable boys' jackets. Like Lady Chatterley, luxury and high glamour often fetishise the lower orders – because the lower orders have specific jobs to do. The headscarf, the land girl look, and the pencil skirt secretary are all in vogue now, because we want to look like we have a purpose.

Fashion is often said to be for those with more money than sense, but in these pre-recession times, Corrie Chic declares its wearer to have more sense than money. Though, as it happens, I've just been to the birthday party of a Coronation Street actor and the Hilda Ogden look was nowhere to be seen. Gail Tilsley wore a silver blouse; that handsome chap who goes out with Violet had on a very expensive pair of shoes and the gay couple wore beautifully fitting shirts.

But when I asked who one particularly handsome man was, it turned out he writes the scripts. Screenwriter chic, anyone? Be sure to carry a pencil.