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The Cult of the Costco Kirkland Signature Tee

The best black T-shirt for the money is located across from the frozen foods

When Mike Ciecierski goes the Costco in Clifton, New Jersey, three items are always on his list: one of those 32-ounce Sabra hummus tubs that’s impossible to finish, a pack of Beyond Meat patties, and most importantly, a six-pack of Kirkland Signature white tees. 

“The quality is insane. It shits on Hanes,” Ciecierski, a freelance camera operator, tells me.

The towering, neon-orange aisles of Costco are an amusement park for the American with storage space. Here, buying in bulk isn’t considered gluttonous, it’s ingenious planning. This fertile land offers three-pound peanut butter pretzels, $19.99 vodka that’s better than Grey Goose, and cardboard sheets promising trips to Disney World.

It also houses a Mecca of affordable, durable clothes. And few non-Costco shoppers know it. “Everyone’s sleeping on it, pretty much,” Ciecierski says of Kirkland attire.

That’s starting to change, however. Costco is one of few companies finding marginal growth during the pandemic, even as the retail industry is nosediving. According to the New York Times, clothing sales fell 79 percent in April. Retailers seem to be toppling weekly: J.Crew, Neiman Marcus, JCPenney and Lucky Brand have all declared bankruptcy

Basic-apparel sales, however, are up. It’s easy to see why: Social distancing orders, widespread layoffs and extended remote work have many of us not leaving the house. The Times reports purchases of sweatpants rose 80 percent in April. 

Costco is primed to benefit from the growth in basics. Early on in the pandemic, worried buyers stocked up on toilet paper, canned goods and bulk items. Many discovered the beauty of comfortable Kirkland tees and pullovers next to the frozen food.

Loyal Costco shoppers, though, know the beauty of eight pairs of wool socks for $12.99 and durable dad jeans that would make your Everlane bestie jealous. “Immigrant families were doing this way before it was trendy or necessary on a pandemic level,” says Karen K. Ho, a global finance and economics reporter for Quartz

Like most mass retailers, Costco isn’t removed from the perils of fast fashion. In July, the company was mentioned alongside brands like Gap, H&M, Calvin Klein and Nike for working with suppliers accused of forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwestern China.

The company was also called out in April for forcing workers to return to stores during the pandemic. Maybe there’s “no ethical consumption under capitalism,” especially in a country mishandling a widespread plague — but shopping at Costco feels a little less problematic than, say, Lowe’s, Walmart, Adidas and Reformation. “Costco brings aspirational luxury down to working-class or middle-class price points,” Ho says. 

The low-cost, high-durability clothing may not win any CDFA awards, but the limited apparel is a safe bet when too many brands are vying for your dollar. “As someone with anxiety, I love Costco,” Ho says — realizing she unintentionally wore Kirkland capris during our call. “These are the things I’m going to buy every year when I need it.”

For guys seeking that perfect tee, the Kirkland brand offers ruggedness, reliability and convenience. “The tee feels thick, it’s all put together well and it’s sturdy,” William Chen, a Canadian Costco loyalist for over five years, tells me. 

A six-pack of black Kirkland T-shirts retails for $18.99. A single J.Crew broken-in pocket tee costs $35. Plus, fans say, Costco tees lack the Uniqlo and H&M problem of cheap attire that fits irregularly.

Now, don’t go to Costco expecting to just casually pick up a black tee — a rookie mistake. “The black ones are really rare. One day I’ll find them,” Ciecierski says. There’s a growing secondary market on eBay in which Kirkland black tees typically go for $5 to $10 more than they do in Costco stores. The trick? Buy them from Costco’s online store.

Even if you can’t find a black tee, chances are, Kirkland offers a pair of boxer briefs or pants worth picking up. 

You also can never go wrong with classic dad clothes. “My favorite quarter-zip is Costco,” Anthony Alvizu, a 23-year-old in Chicago, tells me. “It makes me look kinda buff.” 

That’s because his Kirkland pullover is made of 12 percent spandex, allowing for a forgiving stretch. “I own spandex? I don’t know how I feel about that,” he says.

You should feel proud, Anthony. You snagged a good-looking, long-lasting pullover for cheap. You couldn’t ask for more.