When Yen Pang first visited a Costco in 1999, during a trip from Australia, she was “blown away” by the sight of the vast warehouse filled with giant boxes, house appliances, good-deal electronics, and super-sized groceries: “It was like the best collection of products in one place.” But while Pang, who now lives in the San Francisco area, learned of Costco’s clothing selection soon after that first trip, she wasn’t as fast to jump aboard: “I remember thinking, Why would anyone buy clothes here?” she says. “In my twenties, I just really preferred going to the mall.”
It wasn’t until she had her daughter that she changed her mind, finding the store not only convenient for its one-stop-shop capabilities, but affordable and, yes, even stylish thanks to its large selection of T-shirts, leggings, and skorts. “It’s very practical clothing,” she says. “So it was just convenient for me to start buying clothes there.”
Pang is one of many shoppers who have found themselves awakening to the unexpected appeal of Costco clothing since the warehouse-style store opened its doors in 1976. On social media, you will find plenty of customers trading recommendations and tips for buying clothes at Costco. On TikTok, the search term “Costco clothing finds” has grown nearly 2 billion views, while the hashtag #costcoclothes grew to over 4 million views, mostly through videos of clothing hauls that could rival those from Zara or Aritzia. Meanwhile, Facebook groups like “Today At Costco,” which was founded by Pang, have over 50,000 members.
While Costco fans thrive online, most sources interviewed for this story say they go to the store in person, and that’s because shopping at the warehouse is unlike any other retail experience. Usually located in the middle of the store, the clothing section spans dozens of tables with pieces piled on top of each other, topped by white-and-black signs with brand names like Nike, Adidas, and Eddie Bauer, as well as the company’s own label, Kirkland. The deals speak for themselves — Calvin Klein leggings at $19.99, Banana Republic shorts at $14.99, etc. — encompassing a shopping experience devoid of the decor, overly curated merchandising, and crowds ubiquitous in malls and boutiques. Yet, it’s all full of today’s biggest fashion trends: On a recent visit, I spotted low-rise cargo pants, skorts, and tracksuits. (Costco declined to comment on how they source their merchandise.)
“Costco's really doing a great job keeping up with trends and keeping up with big-brand names that are in style,” says the Canada-based creator behind the Instagram and TikTok channel @jsapproved, who declined to disclose her full name for privacy concerns. “It's really starting to cater more to a younger audience.” As a kid, the creator dreaded going to the warehouse with her parents, who bought everything from groceries and electronics to clothes there. Now, with over 24,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 200,000 on TikTok, where she posts about deals she finds on fashion and beauty at the store, the creator is preaching the Costco gospel one video at a time. “That's probably some of the most popular content I post,” she says. “People are always interested in the fashion deals.”
Many of the sources interviewed for this article mentioned the pandemic as one of their main reasons for starting to shop at Costco. (The company declined to comment on whether the company has seen an uptick in sales for clothing since the pandemic started, yet, according to a report for investors, the company’s e-commerce saw 50%-plus increases in sales in 2020 as more people shopped online.)
Before 2020, California-based Tiffany Weis would have “never thought” to buy clothes at Costco, but, since she began working from home as a result of the pandemic, her style priorities have changed. “It’s all about comfort,” the 53-year-old says. “It's kind of like a whole new mindset.” @jsapproved, too, shops for loungewear, a style that defined the lockdown period, at Costco, where multi-packs of tube socks and $10 sweatpants reign: “I love to dress up, but when I'm home and even when I'm running errands, I want to be comfortable.” She’s turned to Costco for matching sets, sweatpants, roomy bags, and leggings, many of which she finds are dupes of higher-end athleisure names.
But, while during the height of the pandemic, people's lifestyles may have prompted Costco’s popularity, now, with inflation reaching 9% in June 2022, it’s the rising costs for food, gas, and other essential goods in the United States that may prompt shoppers to seek out Costco’s fashion. Even prior to 2020, people like Dee Bee, 40, co-administrator of the “Today At Costco” group, relied on Costco to keep household costs down. She first started shopping for clothes at Costco when her two kids were born because it offered her the ability to shop in bulk. In the past, she found deals like Eddie Bauer top-and-shorts sets for $15: “You can't beat that.” (While Costco declined to comment on the company’s pricing strategy, according to Business Insider, membership, low-cost advertising, and its private brand figure in how the company is able to keep prices low.)
While social media and the current economic concerns have certainly prompted Costco shoppers to approach the store’s fashion finds in a new light, if people like Pang — who, nearly a decade after she first started shopping for her clothing at Costco, still finds herself drawn to the store’s apparel selection— are any indication, there will be a lasting effect to this phenomenon.