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WWDStyle issue 04/06/2011

A nearly 20 percent surge in U.S. jeans sales helped women’s apparel sales expand 2.8 percent in the three months through February, according to market research firm The NPD Group.

This story first appeared in the April 6, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The increase is primarily due to women buying more pairs of jeans and at higher price points,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst. “And with the influx of new styles this year, women may just need a few more pairs.”

Dollar figures for the three-month period weren’t available for jeans, but women’s apparel sales hit $26.9 billion. In 2010, women’s jeans sales were up 2.6 percent to $8.64 billion, NPD reported previously, while women’s apparel sales overall rose 2.9 percent to $107.61 billion.

The majority of growth in women’s jeans volume last year was attributable to the explosion in jeggings sales, which more than tripled, to $271.3 million. “As we see new jeans silhouettes gain in popularity, we may see jeggings’ growth slow,” Cohen said.

A move to higher price points represents a reversal of last year’s pricing trend. Sales of women’s jeans selling for $50 or more declined 6.4 percent to $1.36 billion, and the decline in men’s jeans at those prices was even more severe — down 17.3 percent to $621 million.

Upscale jeans for men might have been a tough sell in 2010, but the same could hardly be said of men’s apparel in general, which grew 3.3 percent to $52.82 billion. Men’s business got even stronger in the three months just covered by NPD, growing 12 percent. Dollar figures weren’t available, but Cohen cited outerwear and fleecewear as outstanding categories, with growth in each exceeding 30 percent.

“Based on what we are seeing in the recent market data, the categories that are going to prosper are those that are a combination of basics and replenishment as well as some impulse and fashion categories,” the analyst said of the men’s apparel outlook.

In the three months, tailored clothing sales expanded more than 30 percent, men’s neckwear 26 percent and dress shirts 9.7 percent. “Whether it’s for social or career reasons, men are displaying a desire to upgrade their wardrobes and use dressing up as a vehicle to demonstrate the importance of both,” he said.

Men’s wear was among the first classifications to dip when the recession hit and “one of the last to return, but now it’s coming on strong, primarily due to a high level of pent-up demand,” Cohen said.

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