Anyone who's been in the men's wear business for a certain number of years has waxed poetic about the good old days, "when the business was fun." Well, finally, real fun may actually be back.

Something - be it an increased interest in apparel, or strong, understandable fashion trends -- is making men across the U.S. revamp their wardrobes, increasing apparel sales by five percent to nearly $53 billion, according to NPD Fashionworld's AccuPanel research. Recent men's wear sales outpaced women's, which grew three percent to $101 billion.

Men have had a lot to digest over the last several years. They were told it was okay to dress down, only to be told the suit was back. Men seemed frozen with indecision over what to do. Then, a welcome combination of business casual came in, followed by the aspirational casual luxe movement. Finally, they're getting it -- and numbers are increasing.

In men's, certain segments performed very well in the first quarter of 2006: tops (both dress and sport shirts), denim jeans, shorts and slacks. Meanwhile in the women's market, denim sales slowed by 0.5%, dress sales dropped by 12.5%, and sales of skirts decreased by 13.4%.

At Claiborne, Karen Castellano, men's president, says the surge in men's wear may be partly due to a cultural shift.

"I think the same thing that women are talking about is affecting men: 50 is the new 30 and they want to look more together," Castellano says. "They're not fashionistas but they're more fashion aware, and they want to make sure they look appropriate. Men are looking for newness and they want to update their wardrobes."

Besides certain preferred items, men have indicated they have a favorite fabric, too. According to Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™, three-quarters of male consumers say their favorite fabric to wear is, or contains, cotton. In keeping with that, cotton comprises 78.9% of purchases (not including swimwear, tailored clothing and outerwear), according to NPD data.

The AccuPanel data also shows that consumers paid a higher average price (up 1.5%) for their cotton apparel so far this year compared to the first quarter of 2005.

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