I bought a new winter parka. Now, I suspect you legitimately don’t give a damn about my clothes, but don’t run away yet because I’m about to impart precious jacket-buying wisdom. And trust me: if you live in Canada or plan to, you’ll need a damn winter jacket.
You’d think Canada is outerwear wonderland because everybody needs a coat, including the fearless guy who bikes to work in a blizzard. Indeed, it would be logical to have entire aisles of cheap and made-for-Canada outerwear, much like France excels in cosmetic and the UK probably kicks ass when it comes to rain jackets (does it? I’m just making this up).
Yet, buying a winter jacket is more difficult than it seems. First, good winter coats are expensive. Technically, the best move is to shop off-season, which is what I should have done—but last spring, the one thing in my mind when the snow finally melted was to ditch my coat, not get a new one. Second, you want a practical coat. Avoid anything past knee length unless you don’t plan to walk on an unplowed sidewalk ever, otherwise, it won’t be a coat but a snow sweeper. Prefer waterproof fabric. Unlike rain, snow doesn’t instantly soak you but it does get you wet after a while. You will need a sturdy zipper because you’ll take your coat on and off multiple times during the day. Finally, the choice is somewhat limited to a few brands and a few stores and the biggest differentiator is where the coats are made—you will pay a premium for made-in-Canada jackets.
I started my winter jacket quest online but I quickly realized that I needed to try them on.
I grabbed my credit and my old coat and I headed to downtown Ottawa, to the Rideau Centre, the largest concentration of department stores and clothing stores I could easily get to.
The entire downtown core is undergoing a major facelift for the new light rail and Ottawa 2017 when Canada will celebrate 150 years as a nation. But the Rideau Centre renovations are completed and the mall has several new stores, even though most of them are inexplicably luxury retailers—I doubt most people in Ottawa have the paycheque to shop at high-end stores like Tiffany & Co.
My first stop was in the basement of The Bay, at Saks OFF 5th, a newly open store that promises prices of up to 60% off more than 800 designers. I browsed the small section dedicated to winter coats. There was one model I liked, but it was too big.
“Excuse me,” I asked a sales associate. “Do you have other sizes?”
He barely glanced at me. “Nope. It’s like everyone wants a winter jacket these days,” he sighed.
Duh, dude. It’s winter. I ain’t shopping for Easter eggs.
Surreptitiously, I checked the size of the coat on the plastic mannequin, just in case. Damn. XL. Oh well, no low designer prices for me.
I climbed upstairs to The Bay, Canada’s oldest department store, and I tried to find where the winter coat section was hidden. Yoga apparel… nope. Ugly Christmas sweaters… nope. Underwear… Nope. Fuck, I hate The Bay. I really wish I could like this Canadian icon but shopping there is like getting sucked into a black hole. Nothing makes sense, there is no one around to help or take your cash and discounts have ten lines of fine print (hint: you will need to sign up for the store’s credit card). Finally, I found a few racks of winter coats, most of them Calvin Klein and way out of my price range.
I crossed the pedestrian bridge to the Rideau Centre and walked to Simons, a Quebec clothing and home décor store that opened recently in Ottawa. Unlike The Bay, it’s inviting and brightly lit. There were employees around. I had a good feeling about it.
The winter coat section was part brands I didn’t know but were very pricey and brands I knew and were very pricey. Half of the coats were from Canada Goose, a made-in-Canada brand that is very popular but very expensive–think $1,000 for a regular coat. Seriously, I don’t need a jacket trimmed with coyote fur purchased from certified Canadian trappers—not kidding, this is a selling point.
Among the affordable not made-in-Canada coats, I found one I really like. There was one XS and four XL, so I found a saleswoman and asked the dumb question customers always ask:
“Do you have more sizes in the back?”
“Let me see what we have in store,” she replied, following me. “There is one XS and several XL models. What size are you?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “Something in between. M, maybe?”
“The XS probably fits.”
“No,” I said. “It’s too small.”
“Why don’t you try it on?”
I obliged. It was too small.
“Oh, you can’t even button it up!” she noted accusingly.
“I know. It’s too small.”
“You need another size.”
“That’s all we have.”
“That’s… too bad.”
“Wait, why don’t you try the XL?”
“Really, that would be too big,” I replied.
“But did you try it on?”
No, because frankly, I knew it was too big. I didn’t feel like trying every size I knew wouldn’t fit so I thanked her and left.
At this stage, I was nice and warm inside the Rideau Centre and I almost deluded myself into thinking a winter coat was a want rather than a need. Then I went out for a smoke and started hunting again because I definitely needed that fucking coat, fuckitscoldoutside.
Last stop, Nordstrom and its shiny inviting first floor with fancy cosmetics, fancy bags and fancy shoes. I had visited the new store once in March 2016, when it opened. After checking the price tag on a pair of jeans ($250), I had crossed it off my list except for the occasional quick bathroom break when walking through (Nordstrom’s bathrooms are kind of hidden so they aren’t full of teenager trying on the items they’ve just shoplifted—gosh, that sentence makes me sound old and grumpy).
Predictably, Canada Goose’s fancy jackets were prominently displayed. I headed to the side racks and picked up a coat. Quick glance at the price tag. Expensive but normal expensive, not let’s-sell-a-kidney expensive.
A sales associate offered help and I gladly accepted. I rarely do—I usually know what I want but this time, I welcomed the attention. Plus, she was nice and efficient. She brought me a few models in the right size (FYI, if you ever feel like buying me a jacket, S or M) and let me try them on.
I loved the first one, a North Face jacket cinched at the waist with fill down insulation, warm pockets, a hood with a drawing string (otherwise it never stays on, lesson learned with my old coat) and fancy little features like magnetic button over the two-way front zip and hidden stretch mittens in cuffs. No other model was as nice.
“I’ll take it,” I said. “Can I wear it now?”
I’ve been wearing my new coat for a week and so far, it delivers. It doesn’t scream “I’m so sexy, look at me” but “come on, motherfucker, throw a blizzard at me, I’m ready!”
I hope it lasts. And I hope winter won’t.