In Maigret's Clothes Closetthe elegance of a plebian physique
by Murielle Wenger
a) What's so fascinating about Maigret, is that there are so many directions from which he can be approached. We can examine his relationships with women, his inspectors, food and drink, the streets of Paris… and never run out of sources to analyze. That's why he's so captivating he's not just a character we meet in a story, as good as it might be, but he's someone you want to know better, whom you'd like to meet in "real life", to ask a thousand questions… what does he like best about his wife, how old was he when he started to smoke a pipe, what does he put on his office walls, etc, etc….
The very size of the corpus in which he appears can only incite us to unforeseen studies… what's the exact number of Mme Maigret's sisters? ... how many pipes are there on Maigret's desk? ... what kinds of books and movies does he prefer?
b) Today I'd like to examine his relationship with clothing... A theme a little light, some might even say, typically feminine, but which can have its elements of interest. Simenon always attached importance to his characters' clothing, and not only in the Maigrets. The clothing worn by a protagonist is almost always a reflection of his personality, indeed his social class. Using only examples from Maigret, consider the famous "blue peignoir", (often half-open, exposing a breast… enticing or withered, as the case may be!) of numerous women met, the faded suits of those who have "crossed the barrier" (murderers, clochards, alcoholics, etc.), the elegant dinner jackets of the upper class (which Maigret, in spite of himself, envies a little), or the garish outfit of an inspector dressed to the nines (of which Maigret has a particular horror!).
c) Simenon himself always paid particular attention to his attire. Consider this extract from Jacques Lanzmann's interview article in the June, 1967 issue of Lui...
"Now in front of me I have Georges Simenon, très élégant, in a cashmere sweater, gray flannel trousers, ocher shoes made to the foot, which is to say, hand-made. But I didn't come to see Simenon to speak of his shoemaker... although his shoe-racks and wardrobe are very impressive something like sixty pairs of shoes, a hundred fifty outfits of all types, so many shirts and shoes that on the first floor of the house there's a large room especially fitted out as at tailor's, with a dressing room and sets of mirrors that allow you to verify the drape of a jacket on your back."
And further, this extract from "Traces de pas" [Footprints, Dictées 1975]...
"I've just given myself a present. I do that from time to time when I'm pleased with myself… For many years I've wanted a fine fur-lined gabardine coat… This afternoon I went to the best furrier in Lausanne for a consultation. In the end, instead of the fur-lined gabardine, it was a fur coat with the fur side out that I wound up buying. The collar and sleeves are leather-lined…"
d) The description of the clothing worn by Maigret constitutes an important part of his character. In fact, when we picture Maigret, what's the first image that comes to mind? No doubt an overcoat, a hat, and a pipe. Cf. Simenon's famous text, The Birth of Maigret, the preface to Volume I of the Complete Works in the Rencontre edition…
"Did I drink one, two, or maybe even three small gins tinged with a few drops of bitters? Still, after an hour, a little drowsy, I began to see drawing itself the powerful and impassive mass of a gentleman who, it seemed me, would make an acceptable Chief Inspector.
If his pipe merits a study of its own (perhaps a subject for a future article…), I will here examine the clothing worn by our Inspector... not only his hat and overcoat, but also the rest of his wardrobe, for it has been described by Simenon in great detail throughout the corpus.
a) What does Maigret's famous overcoat look like? Simenon describes it to us in LET, "a heavy black overcoat" (Ch.1), "a large black overcoat with a velvet collar" (Ch.2). In PHO, we learn also that it is "thick", and in TET, that it is "big", "enormous", in CEC that it is "as stiff as a soldier's greatcoat". These descriptions suffice to give us a good idea of how the inspector looks in this garment that helps make his silhouette even more massive. This sentence in the last chapter of PHO describes the character perfectly, "All you could see of him was his broad back, in his black overcoat with the velvet collar, moving away." Similarly this sentence in OMB, "And an enormous shape separated itself from the shadows, Chief Inspector Maigret, encased in his heavy overcoast with the velvet collar, hands in his pockets." And further in FLA: "his great overcoat gave him the air of being carved of stone", "Maigret remained standing, in his overcoat that made him even heavier."
b) We know other details about the garment. Besides the velvet collar, which Maigret often raises to protect himself from the cold... or sometimes to make himself look more "ferocious", the coat has buttons. (See for example LET, "Maigret sat down… and unbuttoned his overcoat"; OMB, "Maigret… was satisfied to unbutton his heavy overcoat", and POR, "Maigret… buttoned his overcoat.") And it has pockets, which are very practical for thrusting in your hands, as Maigret does innumerable times, or other objects, even if it means deforming the pockets (the plans of Popinga's house in HOL, the countess's missal in FIA, the hammer that killed Germaine in FLA, a suspect's knife, billy and revolver in pig).
c) This black overcoat, thick and heavy, is naturally a garment which Maigret wears when it's cold or rainy. Along with the Chief Inspector, his overcoat has known many torrential rains, which made it even heavier (cf. POR: "his overcoat heavy with moisture", when Maigret has spent the night overseeing a dragnet; FLA, "he put on his overcoat, which the rain had rendered twice as heavy"; CAD, "taking off his heavy overcoat, which the fog had made even heavier"; cho: "his soaked overcoat stuck to his shoulders"), making him smell like a "wet dog" (PRE), and Maigret has more than once had to dry it in his office heated by the cast iron stove. See LET: "His sodden overcoat hanging, completely stiff on the coat rack, kept the shape of his shoulders." and TET: "he spread across two chairs his overcoat heavy with rain".
d) This overcoat is also a little like a shield, a "fortress" where Maigret feels protected (cf. for example CEC, "And Maigret drew himself more deeply into his heavy overcoat, as if to shelter himself from all contact."), a sort of warm and comfortable "cocoon", as in CEC, "Maigret was warm, quite happily warm… he could pass, wrapped in his overcoat… for the incarnation of beatitude."; LOG, "Maigret… was enveloped in his overcoat, warm and content…"
e) It's interesting to note that he'd worn an overcoast since his beginnings with the police, we learn in PRE, "At that time, he had two overcoats, a large black one, with a velvet collar, which he'd worn for three years, and a light brown one, very short, which he'd bought recently, a kind he'd wanted since his adolescence."
f) We find that Maigret didn't wear only a black overcoat with a velvet collar; he had others, as he explains himself, in MEM, "As for the famous overcoat with the velvet collar… I had one, I admit. In fact I had many, like any man of my generation. Maybe it happened, around 1927, one very cold day, or during a heavy rain, that I wore one of those old ones."
And we find that after this "clarification" in MEM, Simenon, in the remainder of the corpus, only speaks of Maigret's "overcoat"... sometimes "heavy" or "large", "heavy with rain" (to the point of weighing 60 pounds (PEU)!), "still damp from the evening" (FAN), even "black" (one mention, in VIN), but never again described as having a velvet collar. If we consider the chronology of the corpus, the velvet-collared overcoat appears during the period from Fayard through Gallimard, and the beginning of the Presses de la Cité series, up to Maigret's "correction" in MEM. After that, though Maigret still wears his overcoat, the velvet collar is no more.
The heavy coat, with or without its velvet collar, is reserved for investigations that take place in the fall or winter. During the spring and summer, Mme Maigret stores it away in mothballs, whose odor it still retains at the beginning of the fall (cf. BAN). From the arrival of the first fine days, Maigret starts to leave it in the office in the afternoon (cf. MIN, CLO, IND), before changing to a lighter one, like the light brown mentioned in PRE, or a mid-season coat (cf. HOL, ECO, VOL, CHA), which he also often leaves in his office, wearing only his jacket on warm spring afternoons.
a) The "first style" Maigret (Fayard era) wears, as his headgear, a bowler, a derby. That's how he is introduced in LET, "He took down his jacket and put it on, then his heavy black overcoat, and put his bowler on his head." The hat is furthermore representative of his function as Chief Inspector, which is why, for example, Maigret wears it when, already retired, he goes to Paris to help his nephew (MAI), or when he goes to see the butcher's body in ceu, "Maigret looked for his hat, and since he couldn't immediately find his old felt that he used in the country, he wore his bowler, which was somehow symbolic."
In the Gallimard period, Maigret always wore his bowler, an indispensible accessory, "pulled down tightly on his head" (CEC).
b) This hat has certainly known its tribulations! The rain... renders it "shapeless" in LET, leaves it "completely dripping with water" in FLA, and transforms it into a "reservoir of water suddenly emptying itself at the least movement" in noy. The wind... obliges Maigret to hold it on with his hand (FIA, FLA), blows it off and even into the sea, in LET. The heat... makes Maigret put a handkerchief under his hat to protect himself from the sun in GAL, and the cold... has Maigret pull his hat down "to his eyes" in FIA. It's knocked askew during a search (LET), falls on Mme Martin's bed when Maigret tries to take a paper from her (OMB). It's used to protect him from a draft on the train (FOU), to hide a telephone with the receiver off the hook (MAI), almost falls off when Céline struggles, refusing to be led away (ETO), and is lost in a "brawl" at the Majestic (MAJ). In fact, Maigret went through so many adventures with his hat that he finally had to replace it... with another bowler, as we see here in GUI...
"Just as he was going out, his glance fell on the brim of his bowler hat, which had been broken for several weeks. Mme Maigret had told him ten times to buy another… On the Boulevard Saint-Michel, he noticed a hat shop, where he tried on some bowlers, all too small for his head… There was nothing that made Maigret more miserable than trying on clothes."
Yes, our inspector isn't made for clothes shopping! Nevertheless, it's in this hat shop that he begins a new investigation, when he encounters M. Basso there seeking a top hat...
c) Before putting it on his head, the Chief Inspector brushes off his hat, or wipes it with his sleeve (JAU, FIA). With a gesture of politeness, he removes it when he speaks to women (sometimes awkwardly when he is uncomfortable, as with Aline in ECL), but there are times when he keeps it on his head, as in protest (cf. NUI, his second visit with Else, when he discovers that she had left her room; MAI, when he enters, "with his hat on his head, Chief Inspector Amadieu's office"). When he is seated, he sets it on the rug (cf. NUI, the famouse scene of the visit with Else, "…Maigret, middle-aged, his face a little red, his hat set on the floor... Wasn't it an engraving for 'La Vie Parisienne'?"), on his lap (MAJ), or on a chair (passim).
And sometimes Maigret strikes a pose which the movies have made classic (You've no doubt seen one of these mysteries from the '50s with the hero in this typical look.)...
Another of Maigret's classic gestures, his salute of greeting or taking leave... cf. HOL: "...he touched the brim of his hat and left."; MAI: "He raised his hand to his hat, said Au revoir!"; pig: "Maigret raised his hand to his bowler hat in greeting"; LOG: "Maigret allowed himself the pleasure… of pushing open the door, touching the brim of his hat... Salut, Pozzo."; pip: "Maigret… framed in the doorway, larger than life, pipe in his mouth, touched the brim of his hat, murmuring Bonsoir…"
d) We note that Maigret had worn his bowler hat, like his overcoat, since his beginnings (cf. PRE; where he even manages to lose it while celebrating his promotion).
From the Presses de la Cité period, Simenon no longer speaks of a "bowler", no doubt for two reasons. First of all, that fashions had changed, and that bowlers weren't worn after 1945 (and Maigret lived in a certain contemporaneity with his creator), and secondly, as it was so well clarified in MEM...
"Let's just look at this little issue of the bowler hat. Too bad if I make myself look ridiculous by avowing that this stupid detail has caused me more grief than all the others.
Once he's taken to wearing the soft "felt" (so called in TEM)... "black" in LOG and CLO), Maigret can increase his repertoire of gestures... he can lower the brim of his hat to cross the street (MEU), wear his hat "over his eyes" (ECH), while continuing (for a while, at least, i.e. the beginning of the 3rd cycle) the same gestures he'd made with his bowler...
MIN: "He opened the door of the inspectors' room, pushed his hat back on his head, and sat down on the corner of a table."
The soft hat also has its adventures... pierced by a bullet in LOG, dripping cold water in BAN, almost forgotten in a library as "unseemly" (TRO), blown off by the wind and recaptured by the guard at the PJ (ECH), tossed down the stairs by the maid (Catherine) in TEM, getting snowed on in PAR...
e) But Maigret has also worn other hats, of which the most typical is perhaps his straw hat, symbol of leisure time, the country, his retirement at Meung-sur-Loire.
The idea of having a straw hat for his retirement may have come to him when he tried on the one which had belonged to Jules Lapie, in FEL... "He reached over and put on his head the broad-brimmed straw hat…. Well! Old Peg-leg had a head even bigger than his own, and he must have had to visit a number of hatshops to find one that fit. It set the Chief Inspector to daydreaming." And later, "Maigret couldn't help but thinking that one day he would be retired, and he too would have a little house in the country, a garden, a big straw hat…" Still further, "Happily, in a few years, he'd take his retirement, and with a great straw hat on his head, he'd look after his garden…".
His dream realized, "he only wore it at Meung-sur-Loire, an old gardener's hat" (VIC); "Maigret… straw hat on his head, weeding his garden… (PAT); "And Maigret… wearing his immense straw hat" (FAC); "Pipe in his teeth, an old straw hat on his head, he floundered about blissfully in a plot of tomatoes…" (not).
He also wore a straw hat, probably a kind of Panama, when he took the cure in Vichy...
"He hesitated to take his straw hat.
And further, he had already worn a straw hat, a boater, in his early years as a policeman (VIC).
And beneath his overcoat, what does the Chief Inspector wear?
This outfit, "a durable black serge suit" (MAI), consists of a jacket, trousers and a vest.
Later (Presses de la Cité period), we can imagine a suit of another color, dark, but not necessarily black. We find three clues for this... in CLO where Maigret wears a "town suit" (complet de ville) (unmodified by the familiar "dark"), in PAT, where Mme Maigret tells her husband to wear his "pepper-and-salt gray suit", and in CHA, where Maigret asks his wife to prepare for him "his best dark suit", because the Chief Inspector is going to a night club. So we can imagine that Maigret only wears his dark or black suit on special occasions, and that he normally wears one of another color, perhaps gray or brown.
Simenon doesn't always have the same opinion of Maigret's clothing...
If his three-piece suit seems to indicate a certain propensity to stylishness, the general appearence of the Chief Inspector is hardly that of a dandy! Beneath his clothes, "his physique is plebian" (LET); cf. also PHO: "his careless attire emphasized the plebian in his build."
We can examine his outfit piece by piece...
a) His jacket, which Maigret often removes in his office (LET, TET, MAL, pip, FAC, MME, GRA, REV, TEN, COL, DEF, PAT, ENF, SEU), or carries on his arm when it's too warm out (GAL, MAJ, CLO, SEU), but which he puts on when he receives a visitor (bea, pip, GRA, REV, PAT.). When he's not wearing an overcoat, it's in his jacket pockets that he puts his hands (MAI, MAJ, MEU), and other objects (a bicycle pedal in PRO, a bouquet of violets in obs). He sometimes turns up the collar of his jacket like that of his overcoat (SIG, DAM, MEU).
Maigret wore another kind of jacket when he was taking the cure in Vichy, "a light-weight jacket, almost white, of mohair" (VIC).
b) About his trousers we know a little. Maigret sometimes put his hands in his pants pockets (TET; FEL); his slacks were made in France (by his "little Jewish tailor on the Rue de Turenne", cf. MEM) and he wore them well above his waist (CHE), which obliged him to wear suspenders, of which we will speak below. On vacation, he sometimes wore white flannel slacks (owe).
The Chief Inspector sometimes wore other types of pants, light slacks with a leather belt and a large silver buckle... a cowboy belt! (CHE)
c) His vest. Like his jacket, Maigret often took it off when he was in his office (TET), or at the very least unbuttoned it (MAJ). Mentioned for the last time in DAM, we can imagine that Maigret no longer wore one at the end of the Presses de la Cité period, as vests went out of fashion in the '50s and '60s.
d) His shirt. With a suit, Maigret must obviously wear a shirt, which can hardly be other than white ("in the sun, the sleeves of his shirt made two bright spots" amo), with the sleeves a little puffed out (GAL). We see him often, in fact each time he removes his jacket, in "shirt sleeves" (GAL, amo, pip, pau, COL, TUE, SIG, AMI, MME, TRO, DEF), or even, when the heat is oppressive, "his shirt open at the throat"! (TEN).
In Maigret's early years, his shirts had a button-on false collar, as was the fashion of the time. It was detachable, celluloid (PHO), separate from the shirt, which is why we often see Maigret unbutton and remove it to make himself more comfortable...
At the beginning of the Presses de la Cité period, the fashion contemporary with the time of writing, changed, the false collar being little by little replaced by shirts with integral collars. That's why we see Simenon vacillate, in different novels, between shirts with and without false collars...
And then we find two novels where Simenon mentions the shirt collar,
After that, Simenon no longer speaks of shirt collars, no doubt because it's obvious that Maigret wears shirts with integral collars.
a) His ties. Since we're already looking at his collar, let's move to the accessory that accompanies it, his tie, an indispensable element of the masculine wardrobe of Maigret's time!
What do we know about Maigret's ties?
He has a hard time tying the knot...
His tie bothers him as often as his collar...
It was no doubt black ("dark" in amo) in the early days, when Maigret wore a black suit. Later, he could wear ties with some color, subdued, certainly, as befit a Chief Inspector of the Police! On vacation, he permits himself more whimsy ...
owe, "Maigret searched for a tie to his taste among the six new ones his wife had given him for the trip." And further, "Something else made him smile, picturing himself… wearing a striped tie he had chosen, sporting the colors of an English university."
b) Suspenders: Another indispensable element in Maigret's wardrobe!
We find our Inspector numerous times with his suspenders hanging...
And finally, let's look at this pretty scene in SIG, full of Simenon's suble humor...
"Maigret, after having filled his pipe, removed his jacket, displaying the mauve suspenders which his wife had bought him the week before. The Chief Inspector smiled at the sight of his suspenders, which, on top of everything else, were of silk, and he made a face."
c) Let's continue to undress (!) our Chief Inspector and move on to undergarments and such. Maigret wears socks (simply mentioned in MAJ, MOR, PHO and TUE, we learn that the Inspector slept in them in LOG!) and an undershirt (one sole mention in VIC).
d) Having undressed, he can prepare for bed. He generally wears a nightshirt...
What does his nightshirt look like?
Out of his bed, he wears a dressing gown ("soft" in MOR, "an old one which looked like a monk's robe" in AMI, in which he looked "enormous" in VIN) and slippers (of felt in MAI, blue in owe, and in which he likes to be barefoot (MAI; JEU)).
e) While we're at his feet, let's examine his shoes. Maigret wears lace-up shoes (POR, MAJ, MAL, MOR, BRA), from which he removes the dust with a dirty handkerchief, "which would have caused a scene with Mme Maigret"! (NEW). These shoes have done more than their share in accompanying the Chief Inspector in the exercise of his duties... cf. MEM: "When I was in the Public Roads Squad, I paced, during each day…, mile after mile of sidewalk, in every kind of weather… the soles of my shoes, become porous, drank up the water of the gutters." And in numerous other novels, we see Maigret with his shoes soaked with rain (for example, LET, TUE). Each year, by tradition, he bought a pair of shoes, at the first fine days, and when he first put them on, his feet hurt, so that he couldn't run after his thief (VOL). When he was young, he had once bought some light brown "goose-dung" shoes, which Mme Maigret had returned to the store, because she didn't want to see him wear them. This memory would connect Maigret to Louis Thouret (BAN).
On vacation he allowed himself to wear "red and white shoes with a most happy effect" (owe).
When he went fishing, he wore Wellingtons (MAI). He also wore ankle boots (PRO), and wooden shoes, varnished and yellow, which Mme Maigret had bought him in Alsace (GUI) and which he slipped on his bare feet in his retirement, to work in his garden (ceu, FAC, not).
f) Once dressed, shod, and wearing his raincoat, Maigret could still protect himself from the cold. If, over the years, he was satisfied to raise the collar of his overcoat and keep his hands in his pockets, with age, he took to wearing gloves ((PAR, NAH) and a scarf. Mme Maigret told him many times to wear his scarf (LOG, TRO), but the first time he agreed, it was a concession, not without melancholy, to the fact that he was getting older...
"You'd better wear your scarf."It was a woolen scarf (PAR), thick (NAH), navy blue (VIN), almost too warm, even stifling (NAH)!
Since we're considering those accessoires serving to protect him from inclement weather, we should note that beginning with the Presses de la Cité period, Maigret uses an umbrella. It's the most frequently voiced concern of Mme Maigret... that her husband carry this object (see JEU, MIN, TEM, CLI; COL; ENF, TUE, VIN). To make her happy, he takes it with him on leaving the house, which doesn't stop him from leaving it later at the Quai des Orfèvres if he has to go out again! So, in MAL, "He walked down the Rue Lamarck, the collar of his jacket raised, since in spite of Mme Maigret's maternal advice, he had left his umbrella at the Quai des Orfèvres…"
Outside of his normal attire, Maigret sometimes has occasion to wear special outfits, according to the situation in which he finds himself plunged during an investigation.
a) In spite of the fact that he doesn't know how to swim, Maigret has a bathing suit and a red robe, which he only uses to stretch himself out in the sand of the beach and watch the bathers (owe)!
b) In a completely different vein, Maigret wears, on occasion, a tuxedo, complete with a dazzling white false shirt, decorated with two pearls (MAJ), and complemented by shiny patent leather shoes... which squeak (MAJ).
And further it was in evening dress that Maigret had made the acquaintance and conquest of Louise. It was, in fact, his father's wedding suit that the young Maigret had had tailored to his size (MEM). He wore a wing collar, tails, white tie, and patent shoes.
Maigret also had a morning coat (the tails rounded from the button to the back), which he had had to wear for a royal visit (PRE).
He had even been photographed in frock coat and top hat when he was secretary to the Police Station (MAJ)!
c) And lastly let's look at the "old clothes" (MAI) that Maigret wears when he gardens at Meung-sur-Loire, "a pair of blue canvas pants which slid off his hips, making him look like an elephant from the rear, a peasant shirt with complicated little designs" (FAC), and "an old pair of pants, a flannel shirt" (TUE).
You have to ask yourself what Maigret would do without his wife taking care of his clothing and packing his bags, since he, himself, is rather careless, and lets things go when Louise isn't there.
Fortunately, in his office he had a closet to arrange his garments!
While we're in the area of order, let's take a little tour of the pockets of Maigret's garments...
Note that it's rare for Simenon to be so precise in his description of a detail of his character, and even more remarkable that, as opposed to the inconsistency which Simenon sometimes showed with regard to dates or the age of his Inspector, in all the stories in which he mentions the contents of Maigret's pockets, he never wavers, never varies from the description given above.
Let's finish this study with an element which forms part of the masculine elegance of our Inspector, his shaving.
If in his youth Maigret wore a moustache... reddish (PRE) or mahogany (MEM) and which he formed into points (MEM) with a hot iron (PRE), it "was reduced to no more than a toothbrush, before disappearing completely." (MEM). He'd even had a pointed goatee (MAJ and JUG)!
But fairly quickly, Maigret had decided to shave it all off. From the time of LET, we know that he shaves every morning, even on Sunday (SIG), even on vacation (VAC, VIC) and that if he can't do it at home, he'll sometimes shave in his office (TEN, SCR), at a hotel (PHO, MAI, JUG, ECO), on a ship (NEW), a train (FOL), or even have himself shaved at a barber's (FAC, MOR).
Whether in a hotel or at home, he has the habit of shaving "before a mirror hung from a half-open window" (JAU), even in New York! (NEW... "he had hung his mirror from the half-open window, and that's where he shaved, as in Paris…"). It was a habit he'd had since he was first married (PRE, "He was shaving in front of his mirror hung from the half-open window").
We know that he has a heavy beard (BRU), that he uses shaving soap (JAU, LIB, amo), a shaving brush (FLA, noe), and a razor (MAI, AMI, men), which he sometimes has occasion to buy (JUG, VOY), when he doesn't borrow one from his quarry (MOR)!