Guide To Clothes Shopping In Canada

A Canadian Toonie

A Canadian Toonie

Granted, I’m no the most stylish woman on earth — I know, shocking for a French, but should I remind you I don’t drink wine either?

But lately, I realized how much my style and my way of shopping changed. I guess I became… well, more North American.

Clothes shopping in Canada isn’t that different from shopping in Europe at first glance. Yet, there are some tricks and local trends. So I wrote a little “guide to clothes shopping in Canada”.

Where to shop? Most Canadians shop in indoor malls. Each big city has at least three of four famous malls which are also often landmarks and transportation hubs. Most malls are located in the far suburbs (which is why some Canadians travel to their city downtown only a few times a month!) while some are downtown. Shopping malls are very practical in the winter because you don’t have to go out, you can even grab a bite at the food court (if you are into fast food). That said, malls lack characters: they all look the same and shops are very similar from one mall to another.

Clothes sizes are different. Generally speaking, everything is bigger than in Europe or Asia. Most tops go from XS, S, L, M to XL. For pants, it depends: some are in US sizes (usually from 00 to 14), some use waist size (usually from 24 to 36). Some stores carry exclusively “plus size” fashion (from 14 to 26), such as Addition Elle, Laura Plus etc. Petite sizes are standard clothing sizes designed to fit women of shorter height, typically 5’3″ or less. The way clothes are cut is also different. For instance, as a European/ Mediterranean, when I gain weight, it typically goes on my butt and thigh but my waist is thin. But most North American women seem to gain weight on their stomach, not on their thighs. Therefore, when pants go up in size, the waist is bigger but not the legs… most of my pants fit fine on the legs but I always wear a belt!

Bargains and sales are the way to go. When I first came to Canada, I often converted the Canadian dollar to Euro and found clothes much cheaper than in France, so I’d buy them full price. I soon learned that there were sales all the time… When I shop now, I go straight to the end of the store where great bargains can be found. Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Roots, Jacob… virtually all stores, expensive or not, have some great deals if you are willing to buy last month’s fashion (shocking, I know). I recently bought some pants at Esprit for the grant total or… $9.03!

You can find even cheaper clothes at factory outlets. They are usually located in the suburb and carry the previous year’s fashion. Roots, for example, has amazing discounts. Shop like Winners carry heavily discounted brand names.

So, are clothes expensive? It depends where you are from, obviously. To me, everything is much cheaper than in France. I can find a great pair of Levis jeans for $40 (regular price, not on sale). I rarely spend more than that for pants and skirts actually, unless it’s a special item I really need. Tops are even cheaper, I think mine average $15. And all these clothes are brand name! So, what’s more expensive? Well, anything branded “European”, whether it’s the style or the brand. For instance, Mexx and Benetton are much more expensive than in Europe. Perfume and make-up isn’t cheap either, but that’s another topic.

What should you invest it if you have just arrived in Canada? Most immigrants think they need a full new wardrobe when they land here. The truth is, I wear pretty much the same clothes year round. Only my shorts are put away for the winter! In the winter, I just wear a sweater on my t-shirts and I generally wear pants. I still wear skirts but with panty hoses. Warning: don’t try this your first year in Canada. Being outside wearing a skirt when it’s -20C, like I did this week, takes some time to get used to! In order to be able to wear your regular clothes, what you need is a very good coat, preferably a relatively long one (to short, it doesn’t block the wind, to long, it gets dirty very fast). You will also need gloves, a hat and a scarf. Oh, and my secret: very good and thick socks! With that, you should be able to wear normal clothes (i.e. pants, t-shirt or blouse + sweater) underneath and not freeze to death.

Are the clothes good quality? It depends on the brand. Generally speaking, yes. Tops are not a problem, I can keep mine for years. Pants are a bit trickier, because the salt in the winter can really damage them (it literally disintegrates the fabric). My biggest pet peeve in Canada is shoes. I have yet to find shoes that will last longer than a few months. Granted, I do walk a lot. But there seem to be a lot of “cheap” shoes here that don’t last.

Finally, don’t forget that everything comes with experience. You will tend to spend more money than locals at first because you are not familiar with all the tricks and bargain. But you will learn to find your way around the mall!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Good tips 😉

    Concerning the winter jacket some persons advised me to take a Canada Goose, although they are quite expensive, it is apparently totally worth it. Would you agree with that?

  2. When I go back next year, I’ll be stocking up my suitcases. There are sales here as well but I feel more comfortable to shop in Canada. But Europeans are far more stylish than Canadians, in my opinion though. I haven’t been able to find a suitable pair of jeans…big stomach, big thighs and big butt. Hahaha.

  3. Very interesting post. I guess if one is coming from Europe, then North America is cheaper. My parents also told me that, as they were able to compare the prices in Hungary (where they live) to here in the US, when they were visiting. However, I rarely buy clothes here, since I do that whenever I would be going back to the Philippines, where it is way cheaper, and since I also have money from here.
    .-= Linguist-in-Waiting´s last blog ..Dissertating Blues =-.

  4. I agree with Linguist-in-waiting. It depends from where one is coming. I still find Indian clothes much cheaper.

    Zhu, I think now it’s time for you to write an e-book for first timers in Canada. 🙂
    .-= Nisha´s last blog ..A confrontation with contrast =-.

  5. I’m not much of a fashion expert, but I do like going to the retro clothes shops and finding fun stuff, especially with the gf.

    The toonie looks cool. Probably because I like bears.
    .-= Seb´s last blog ..Flower Bear. =-.

  6. @Rémy – I’m ashamed, I don’t even know the brand! I’d advise you to buy a reputable brand but not necessarily this one. Mine is Gap, I bought it before winter so I think I paid around $100. So, when are you coming to the land of the cold (and of beavertails)? 😉

    @Bluefish – I’m with you with jeans. I always had a hard time finding a good pair in France, both because of the size and of the price.

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – I’m sure clothes must be cheaper in the Philippines… I also bought a lot of stuffs when I was in China!

    @Nisha – You know what, this ebook thing is a great idea! Maybe I should work on that.

    @RennyBA’s Terella – Are you seriously considering coming? I know you’d love it, attending the Olympics is a very special experience.

    @Khengsiong – There are no Carrefour stores in Canada. As for Wal-Mart, they are popular but not as popular as in the U.S.A I think.

    @Seb – I knew you’d love bear money 😉

    @kyh – Ah, guys…! 😆 I’m not a crazy shopper but I must admit I like clothes.

  7. That price is definitely expensive for India, even for the branded ones (I think). I’m the laziest guy to shop for clothes. In the entire past 3 years, I’ve bought 5 items of clothing 😛 My folks know me too well, they get it for me.
    .-= Nigel Babu´s last blog ..Pushing 150 kg =-.

  8. Pants? Hmmm… I always wonder what they really refer to in Canada?!
    Are they British underwear or American trousers?
    Ha ha… I’d better re-learn my English in Canada then, huh?

  9. I rarely spend more than $10 for jeans… if you find a Stitches, Suzy Shear, or Bluenotes outlet, you can see sales that are “Buy one, get the second for $1!” It’s incredible. I got almost an entire new wardrobe for $90 at Bluenotes and Suzy Shear.

    Going downtown also means you pay more, but find really unique things. The little shops are so fun, but can be tough to find things if you’re an odd size, since almost everything is one-of-a-kind. 🙂

    • You’re right, there are some great deals at these shops and the quality is quite good.

      I almost never go to these little shop because most of them are just too expensive. They have cute stuffs though!

  10. Yeah, you really have to dig for good bargains! I love going up and down Bank Street in Ottawa, but it’s too pricey for my student budget! The same goes for Kensington Market in Toronto. It’s full of hippies and students, but it’s rather expensive! I do love the bakeries though!

    • I like the shops in the Byward too but when you see a simple scarf is like $60… er… no. I actually buy most of my work clothes at RW&co (expensive at regular price but they always have sales at the back of the store!) and Gap. I also have jeans from Bluenotes and bargains I picked up here and there.

      I have never truly understood people who drive to Montréal to shop on WE. I have never really found anything different there… except once again a few designer shops I can’t afford anyway!

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  14. Hi Zhu!

    I loved your fall pictures. Mark looks so fragile but I think that babies are tougher than they look.

    I was reading you post on shopping and I thought that I should mention a good place for saving money. I don’t know if you have these places in Ottawa but in Regina we have a place called Value Village. It sells donated clothing and the profits go to community projects. I can buy Levis in good condition for around $5.00. The workers are unionized so they make a decent living. It doesn’t make sense to spend $70.00 for Levis and wear them out in the warehouse where I work. (I don’t understand the stigma about buying used clothing. (I grew up with 5 brothers and I can’t remember when I had my first brand new store bought thing, all I ever knew was hand me downs.} You save money and you help people in need that is what I call a win win situation. It is also good for the environment, I don’t think that we should judge our quality of life by our per capita GNP or whether or not we have the latest SUV in the driveway.

    • Thank you for the comment on Mark! Babies do look fragile but when it’s your own it feels different. I was always scared to hold my friends’ babies but it feels more natural with Mark 🙂

      I do live by a Value Village, and I donated a lot of clothes there in the past. I also shopped there occasionally, although some prices are higher than they should be! Strange: some clothes are better priced new in stores. It’s a good bargain-hunting place!

  15. Hi Zhu

    Thanks for this.

    I wonder if good quality shoes fron the UK are in demand in Canada.

    I am thinking of visiting Canada from the UK a few times in the year with ladies clothes, shoes and accessories for sale.

    Is there a gap in the marketfor this? If so, how is it best to go about it?

    Many thanks


    • It’s hard to say really. Doc Martens don’t seem to be that popular anymore here. You may want to have a look at popular shoestores in Canada, like Globo Shoes, Payless Shoes Source, etc. I personally think shoes here in Canada aren’t great quality but for brands like Merell, Kodiak, Columbia, etc. But I don’t know if Canadians feel the same.

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