NEW YORK -- A mix of updated and traditional daywear and sleepwear sets sparked the retail innerwear action for Mother's Day, with cotton knit sleepwear frequently taking a starring role.

A check of retailers attending this week's innerwear market indicated stores saw good selling in the week before the holiday, with gains coming in the range of 3 to 10 percent over the comparable period a year ago.

They attributed the sales gains to a general loosening of consumers' purse strings, along with a greater demand for novelty merchandise, especially cotton knits with surface treatments.

"Cotton knit sleepwear certainly was a key direction for us," said Marcia Haimbach, vice president of intimates at Federated Merchandising, merchandising arm of Federated Department Stores.

She singled out short Empire sleep gowns of cotton knit with a ready-to-wear flavor as the number one selling look for Mother's Day.

Haimbach added that action for Mother's Day business also was generated by traditional looks in sleepwear such as gown and coat sets and brand name collections by Anne Lewin, Carole Hochman and Josie.

"Mother's Day business was better than last year," said Sue Wilson, buyer of daywear and panties at the department store division of Dayton Hudson Corp. "The interest was mainly in natural fibers, especially cotton knit."

Robert Pawlak, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and other areas at Carson Pirie Scott & Co., Milwaukee, said, "We had very strong Mother's Day business in innerwear and did much better than during our storewide semiannual sale the month before."

Pawlak said sleepwear was the strongest category, followed by robes and foundations. He singled out a daywear and panties group called Naturals by Jockey for Her as a top selling brand.

"Naturals blew out of the stores," said Pawlak, who oversees Bergner's, the Boston Store and Carson Pirie Scott. "We called in backup merchandise three days after delivery and immediately placed reorders."

Michelle Vallean, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel for Anthony Co., Oklahoma City, said, "We had a 3 percent increase over Mother's Day business last year."

Vallean noted that key items included cotton knit and nylon satin sleepwear, and bra and panty sets of cotton knit.

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