The Winter Jacket Saga (With Plenty of Canadian Wisdom Inside)

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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.”

“I agree.”

“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.

Yes, Canada has “warm up events”

Simons at the Rideau Centre

This is the picture of the coat I would NEVER buy (seriously, is there anything less practical?)

Nordstrom, in Ottawa since 2016

I suck at selfies(don’t mind the hat, I bought it when I was a rebellious 13-year-old teen)

Ah, there we go!


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. The main point is having a waterproof coat. It is what is the worst under snow. Mine is, and there are several layers, I can remove the outer shell to have something lighter for spring or autumn or Texas.

      • I have two coveralls (bleu de travail), one light for summer and one for winter. Beside that, I essentially wear jeans and T-shirts, and a skirt and/or a pull with or without my jacket depending of the weather. Plus an additional pair of socks and long underpants if it is really cold.

  2. Nice coat! And yes, you need something proper here.
    I actually got by with a coat I got in France for a while until Jamie got me a nice coat in a Hemp store! You know the kind that sells hemp clothing and… hemp smoking accessories. It’s actually really warm, pretty and environmentally friendly. Plus I get a lot of compliments on it. It’s a nice change from all the ski jackets people favor here since there are nearly 10 ski stores in our teeny tiny “town”.
    I have also found a proper sheepskin coat, handmade, at the thrift store that keeps me warm in -30 weather. And I find it cute too.
    As for the fur coat you photographed, I’m actually regretting not getting one I found… at the thrift store lol I wouldn’t buy fur new, but since it was second hand I would have felt less guilty. I didn’t try it on at the time and it’s probably gone now. But even in the bitter winter cold, if I don’t care about looking sexy, I still want to look cute / feel stylish.
    Sorry for the novel 😉

    • That’s so funny you got a coat in a hemp store! I can see why though, hemp clothing is actually pretty cool. I can just imagine you explaining that no, you don’t smoke a sleeve when you feel down 😆

      I’m not particularly against fur per se, it doesn’t bother me to be honest, especially when fur and animal products are used in a cultural setting… for instance by First Nations. That said, I wouldn’t wear fur because I don’t like the texture of it. I have no issue with leather, though.

      • I’m with you for the fur thing. And my sheepskin coat is hannd made by first nation pple.
        The fur coat I saw was more rich old white woman though and I could picture the face of my vegan friends (I live in a very vegan / hippy friendly place) throwing red paint at me if I wore that kind of coat 😉
        I’m not usually into the clothes found at the hemp store (again, to hippy for me) but love my coat.

  3. Okay, this post was SO timely for me… I’ve been on a look out for a new winter jacket for my first Canadian winter. Good thing that I brought my own really nice down feathery super warm jacket from Europe – just in case- and I think I am going to hold onto it since the really good quality ones here in Canada are crazy expensive..

    Anyhow, I think I remember reading a blog post here where you advice anyone coming to Canada to bring as much of their winter clothes if they can, and not focus on summery clothing too much. Regret to say I failed to listen to you.. 80% of my stuff is summer clothes. Big mistake. So glad I decided to bring my heavy winter jacket, it was really heavy to pack but oh SO WORTH IT!

    Next thing, I need to buy proper Canadian winter shoes/boots… any advice on that? Help 🙂
    Btw love the jacket you got, it suits you perfectly. Mind sharing how much you paid for it?

    • I paid about $500 for it, which is way more than I’ve ever paid for a coat. My previous one from Gap was under $200 and it lasted about three winter. It’s really worn out now, though.

      Ah, shoes… this is a huge issue for me because 1) I walk a lot and wear out my shoes quickly 2) I find shoes super expensive in Canada. Leading brands for snowboots are Kamik, Merrel, Cougar, etc. I’ve had a good experience with Cougar. These are shoes that fit me, never painful, strong enough. My best advice (too late for this year, sorry!) is to buy a pair at the end of the season, in the spring. I did that last year and ta-da! This year I had a brand new pair of boots in their box when I needed them. Do you have The Shoes Company where you live?

    • For the boots/shoes, I would suggest to take eventually half a size over what you wear, in order to be able to put two pair of socks inside, essentially if you plan to go often outside.

        • I feel I say this every time but I live in the middle of nowhere. And I got a pair of Sorels at Mark’s Work Warehouse (not sure they are everywhere in Eastern Canada too?) 5 years ago and they are still looking good. And you can buy replacements for the inside lining to keep your boots longer.
          They work great here since we tend to get a lot of powder and proper snow. Not sure how they would fare in the city though.

          • Yep, we have Mark’s Work Warehouse here too. Mostly guys stuff, though, which is too bad because they have cheap Levis jeans :-/

  4. I really need to find my winter coat. Although I doubt that I will be going out very much in the cold weather this year. How did you survive winter with a baby?

    • It was a mild winter that year, or at least it must have been because I clearly remember stepping out of the house with Mark. But malls… many many malls… fucking malls… oh, and Chapters. That’s how I developed my coffee addiction, never liked coffee before!

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