Clothing stores report improving sales as Americans exit pandemic, update closets

After a year of being stuck in sweatpants, pajamas, and fluffy slippers, Americans are starting to dress up and go out again.

Levi Strauss sees a resurgence of denim as demand for dresses at Macy’s, Anthropologie and Nordstrom increases as proms and weddings pick up. And teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters said sales were increasing due to “pent-up” demand for its clothes.

In the three months ending in February, market research firm NPD Group said jeans and casual pants have started to cut their previous declines by more than half, indicating that consumers are preparing to spend more. time away from home. And more than half of U.S. consumers plan to purchase clothes in the coming months, catapulting them into the first category of anticipated spending, followed by footwear and beauty products, according to the NPD consumer survey.

“My plan is to dress up and enjoy the things in my wardrobe,” said Beth Embrescia, 51, a fundraiser who last year paired dress tops with pants. tracksuits and Birkenstocks for work. Zoom calls, but recently purchased collared shirts and moccasins with a wedge heel on a recent vacation to Florida. “I’m not jogging out to dinner.”

Such signs of renewed interest are providing a much needed boost to clothing sales, which have been on the shelf for a year. They also serve as encouraging indications of a strong economic recovery, as Americans show more willingness to travel and dine as President Joe Biden’s vaccination plan advances ahead of schedule.

Major transactions at full-service restaurants more than doubled in March from a year ago, although down 25% from two years ago, according to NPD. Hotels are also making a comeback, with demand in the week ended April 11 more than quadrupling from a year ago and up 10.9% from the same week in 2019, according to Koddi, an advertising technology company.

During the first 20 days of April, the Transportation Security Administration screened an average of 1.4 million people per day, a significant increase from a year ago, when the number was just under 99,000 per day . But travel is still on a halt compared to 2019, which averaged more than 2.3 million people per day over a comparable period.

Data on clothing sales is preliminary, and retailers and designers are still trying to figure out how a year of lockdown is going to change the way people think about dressing. Casual clothing was already strong before COVID-19, and many experts believe the pandemic has only accelerated the trend.

A year ago, Los Angeles-based fashion designer Kevan Hall quickly ditched his signature dresses and cocktail dresses for kaftans, tunics and slip-on pants. Now Hall is adding dressier looks, but is eliminating loose skirts and cutting back on beading in favor of simple dresses and dresses in knit and tulle.

“I don’t know if women will ever want to go back to being with that much structure again,” said Hall, who has received calls from customers and stores in recent weeks asking for dressy looks. “I think people are going to lean even more on comfort, even when they are dressing for a night out or a gala.”

Retail executives are also looking at how dress will change. As some companies begin to reopen their offices, many are extending working from home indefinitely or switching to a hybrid model, eliminating the need to wear office clothes five days a week.

At the start of the pandemic, clothing and accessories sales collapsed when non-essential stores were forced to temporarily close. But now, business is starting to rebound above pre-pandemic levels. In March, spending at clothing and accessories stores rose 18.3% to $ 22.86 billion from the previous month, according to the latest Commerce Department report. monthly retail report. This was almost double compared to the same month of March 2020 and up 2.3% compared to March 2019.

Retailers, burned by the sudden abandonment of formal looks last year, are cautious about how much to add.

Janice Elliott, a buyer for designer clothing boutique Gus Mayer’s in Nashville, TN, says she’s optimistic about people returning to outlet clothes this spring and fall, but she’s avoiding ordering items like structured girdles and leans towards flowing cotton dresses.

Before the pandemic, more than 50% of Gus Mayer’s business was in formal clothing; at the height of COVID-19, that number fell to less than 10%.

“I think there is going to be pent-up demand, but I still think there will be a more relaxed way of dressing in the future,” Elliott said.

Deirdre Quinn, CEO and co-founder of upscale clothing brand Lafayette 148 New York, says her team designs versatile items like blouses that can be worn from day to night.

She noted that activity was down 30% last year from the previous year and this year has started weak. Quinn has yet to see any recovery in dresses and believes sales won’t rebound to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.

“I don’t want to rush to where we were,” she said. “I’m going to control how fast I grow. It’s a reset time.

Anne G. Cash

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