NEW YORK — Long overshadowed by denim and sportswear, tailored clothing became the hot market in men’s wear last year, outpacing the largest apparel segments.

Dollar volume sales for tailored clothing, which includes suits, suit separates and sport coats, jumped 7 percent in 2007 to $5 billion, according to new data from The NPD Group. The segment narrowly edged out tops, which posted a 6 percent gain last year to $22.1 billion.

Suit separates fueled the demand, posting an impressive 35 percent gain year-over year. “Once again the ability to create a personalized fit experience by being able to buy the right size jacket and pant have made suit separates the way to shop for tailored clothing,” noted Marshal Cohen, NPD’s lead analyst. “Between the dressing-up trend and the ability to buy suits ‘off the rack’ — no alterations necessary — this huge growth category has gotten even bigger among the younger crowd, who are now reaching for style as a great image maker.”

The robust year marks a turnaround for the category, which has suffered lackluster performance for much of the last decade thanks to relaxation of dress codes at work and the growth of the premium and designer sportswear markets. In 2006, tailored clothing posted sales of $4.7 billion, an 8 percent drop, the worst of any category NPD tracks.

The men’s market, which grew 4 percent overall last year to $57.2 billion (women’s apparel edged just 1 percent to $103.1 billion), was also led by strong sales of fleecewear, sleepwear and swimwear, all of which posted double-digit gains. Fleece apparel surged 18 percent to $2.2 billion.

The biggest loser: outerwear, which lost 1 percent on the year with sales of $3.4 billion.