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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!


  1. 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!

  2. 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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