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How to Shop for Clothes in Canada

A Canadian Toonie
A Canadian Toonie

Granted, I’m not 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.

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

Where to shop?

Most Canadians head to indoor shopping malls. Each big city has at least three of four famous malls which are also often landmarks, transportation hubs and warm places where you can hang out in the dead of winter. Most malls are located in suburbia–which is why some Canadians travel to their city downtown only a few times a month!—but one or two are usually located 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 options). That said, malls lack characters—they all look the same with similar layouts, shops, brands, pricing, etc.

Clothing 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 on—some have US sizes (usually from 00 to 14), and 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 woman, when I gain weight, it typically goes on my butt and thigh but my waist isn’t affected much. But most North American women seem to gain weight on their stomachs, 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 at 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, fancy or not–have great deals if you are willing to buy last month’s fashion (shocking, I know). I recently bought pants at Esprit for the grand total of… $9.03!

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

Are clothes expensive?

It depends on where you are from. To me, everything is much cheaper than in France. I can find a great pair of Levi’s jeans for $40 (regular price, not on sale). I rarely spend more than that for pants and skirts actually, unless it’s a really unique item I really need. Tops are even cheaper, I think mine average $15. And all these clothes are brand names! 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 aren’t cheap either, but that’s another topic.

What should newcomers buy first 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—I only put my shorts away for winter, I’m not that Canadian yet. In winter, I just wear a sweater on my T-shirts and regular pants or jeans. I still wear skirts but with pantyhoses. 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!

To be able to wear your regular clothes, what you need is a very good jacket, preferably a relatively long one (too short, it doesn’t block the wind, too long, it gets dirty very fast). You will also need gloves, a hat and a scarf. Oh, and my secret—thick and insulated 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 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 winter road salt damages everything (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 bargains. But you will learn to find your way around the mall!

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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