By  on July 23, 2007

“Sometimes an outfit is the accessories,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group. Don’t agree? Just ask New Yorkers if there’s a difference between a Yankees ball cap and a Red Sox one. The accessories business may be the profit center for women’s design houses, but it’s becoming increasingly important to men’s wear too. Its ascendancy prompted NPD to start tracking the category this past spring and the initial readings yielded some surprising results. Below, the top 10 men’s accessories categories ranked by dollar sales.

1. Casual watches              
First-quarter 2007 dollar share: 12 Percent

The top 10 categories overall reflect an increasingly casual culture. See the presence of sport sunglasses and baseball caps on the list, and the absence of ties. There’s no better indication of this trend than the casual watch. We live in a world where the Ironman you use at the track is acceptable, however unfortunately, in the boardroom. “There’s tremendous influence from the multi-function sports watch,” says Cohen. “Men don’t make the distinction between dress and sport watches today.”

2. Rings
11 percent

Aside from function or fashion, accessories can have a sociological bent too. Cohen says rings are important to men because they express social bonds—to a spouse, school or group. “They are a strong form of self-expression,” says Cohen. The other driver in this market: accessory-friendly youth, who in general are much more willing to wear jewelry as fashion than their fathers were.

3. Dress watches
8 percent

You know the names. Patek, Rolex, Breitling. If casual watches are about function, dress watches are all about brand. The top 10 watch brands account for 53 percent of the market—the highest percentage among all accessories. Compare that with jewelry, for which the top 10 brands make up only 10 percent of sales.

4. Baseball caps
7 percent

The T-shirt is the ultimate personal billboard, followed closely by the baseball cap. Like T-shirts, baseball caps express your allegiance and enthusiasm—often in this case to sports. Cohen says baseball caps play a vital cosmetic role as well by providing coverage to the bald and balding. They may be the world’s most ubiquitous (and cheapest) hairpiece.

5. Wallets
6 percent

Little known fact: Men take their wallet preferences seriously. Like the grand divide between those who wear boxers or briefs, so too are there distinct, unscalable walls between the trifold guy, the bifold guy and the money clip guy. “Men have an emotional preference to their wallets and get upset if a certain style is discontinued,” Cohen says. The debate is often one of fashion over function. Trifolds hold more, but look bulkier in pants than other styles do.

6. Leather belts
6 percent

Leather belts are the only commodity business to make the list. The biggest driver for purchase? Expanding waistlines. Cohen says the average male over 35 years of age has to buy a new belt every three years due to his growing gut. “This is a replacement business,” he adds.

7. Sport sunglasses
4 percent

Youth are driving this market as sunglasses become a coveted status symbol among brand-conscious kids. And it’s not just Oakleys. Younger guys, seeking bold and brazen looks, are snatching up fashion labels like Chanel and Gucci. NPD reports that brand is the most important factor when it comes to purchasing eyewear.

8. Laptop bags
4 percent

Say hello to the 21st-century work bag that has effectively replaced the briefcase. (Many briefcase-style bags are now equipped with extra padding and reinforced shells to better protect your iBook.) Work bags have always been functional, but the presence of fragile and expensive electronics has demanded more technical innovation, like waterproof cases and solar-powered internal chargers.

9. Chains/necklaces
4 percent

One of the few accessories in the list that has a purely fashion focus, chains have become the jewelry du jour for the youth market, whose necks are increasingly ringed in skull-and-crossbones charms, and other symbols of tough-guy style. Guess has invested heavily in the category with hopes that young guys will continue to accessorize denim looks.

10. Earrings
3 percent

Remember when people used to pierce just their ears? Today, if you can get a needle through it, somebody has pierced it. Offerings for body jewelry have expanded way beyond the classic studs and hoops too. Now there are barbells, half balls, claws and plugs. Oh, my! “It’s about multiple piercings and an increased rate of purchase,” says Cohen.

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