The Journal Gazette
Monday, April 26, 2021 1:00 am

Eager Americans update their closets

ANNE D'INNOCENZIO | Associated Press

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

Levi Strauss is seeing a resurgence in denim while demand for dresses at Macy's, Anthropologie and Nordstrom is going up as proms and weddings resume. And teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters said sales are rising due to “pent-up” demand for its fashions.

During the three months ended February, market research firm NPD Group said jeans and casual pants began to cut their previous declines by more than half. And more than half of U.S. consumers plan to buy clothing in the coming months, catapulting it back to the top category of anticipated spending, followed by footwear and beauty products, according to NPD's consumer survey.

“My plan is to dress up and enjoy the things in my wardrobe,” said Beth Embrescia, 51. “I will not be going out to dinner in joggers.”

Such signs of renewed interest offer a much-needed boost for clothing sales, which have been in the dumps for a year. They also serve as hopeful indications of a strong economic recovery as Americans show more willingness to travel and dine out as President Joe Biden's vaccination plan proceeds ahead of schedule.

The data on clothing sales is preliminary, and retailers and designers are still trying to figure out how a year of being homebound will change the way people think about dressing up. Casual wear was already strong before COVID-19, and many experts believe the pandemic only accelerated the trend.

A year ago, Los Angeles-based fashion designer Kevan Hall quickly moved away from his trademark gowns and cocktail dresses to caftans, tunics and pull-on pants. Now Hall is adding back some dressier looks, but he's eliminating the full skirts and scaling back the beading in favor of simple gowns and dresses in knit and tulle fabrics.

“I don't know whether women will ever want to go back to being with so much structure,” Hall said. “I think people are going to lean into comfort even more – even when they are getting dressed for evening or galas.”

At the onset of the pandemic, sales of clothing and accessories cratered when non-essential stores were forced to temporarily close. But now business is starting to rebound In March, spending at clothing and accessory stores rose 18.3% to $22.86 billion from the month before, according to the Commerce Department. That was almost double compared with the same month in March 2020 and up 2.3% compared with March 2019.

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