U.S. apparel sales last year rebounded from their 2009 declines, but still fell short of their 2008 levels with price deterioration continuing in the just-concluded year.

This story first appeared in the February 11, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

According to data released Thursday by The NPD Group Inc., 2010 apparel sales overall rose 1.9 percent to $192.73 billion, with women’s growing 2.9 percent to $107.61 billion and men’s expanding 3.3 percent to $52.82 billion. Children’s apparel volume receded 3.6 percent to $32.3 billion.

The improvements in adult apparel sales in 2010 weren’t sufficient to compensate for declines in the prior year, which came to 5.1 percent overall, 4.8 percent for women’s, 5.6 percent for men’s and 5.2 percent for children’s. Looking at the two-year trend, overall apparel sales last year finished 3.3 percent below their 2008 levels with declines of 2 percent in women’s, 2.5 percent in men’s and 8.6 percent in children’s.

“Consumers bought what they wanted, when they wanted, where they wanted, and they shopped in more outlets,”said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD.

E-commerce apparel sales grew almost 10 percent last year. “I don’t think that the days of consumers going into a physical store are over, but I do think that retailers have to improve the in-store experience and find ways to complement the online experience,” Cohen said.

Outstanding growth categories last year included, in women’s, skirts (up almost 13 percent), dresses (up almost 4 percent), tights (up 33 percent) and shapewear (up more than 7 percent), and, in men’s, long-legged briefs (up almost 22 percent). Jeans sales fell 1.2 percent, with women’s up 2.6 percent but men’s down 3.1 percent.

Average price points declined 0.9 percent last year, with a 0.1 percent increase in women’s serving to limit the impact of a 1.7 percent decline in men’s and a 4.2 percent dip in children’s. Over the two-year span, overall prices were down 2.6 percent, with women’s down 1.2 percent, men’s down 3.1 percent and children’s weathering a 7.2 percent drop-off. The average apparel item last year sold for $9.91, down from an even $10 in 2009.

Retail stocks continued their ascent Thursday, as speculation of a takeover or a management switch at American Eagle Outfitters Inc. pushed the stock up 9.1 percent to $16.03 on more than three times the average volume.

The company made no announcement and didn’t respond to a request for comment as the markets closed. The company has an enterprise value of $2.2 billion, which includes the value of its stock and debt minus cash on hand. (For more on American Eagle, go to WWD.com/business-news.)

The S&P Retail Index rose 0.4 percent, or 1.89 points, to 520.14 Thursday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1 percent, or 10.60 points, to 12,229.29.

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