Nothing blue about jeans sales: They're hot, in color

are selling well at Denim Habit in the Promenade, Marlton. These J Brand midrise jeans are $187. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer
are selling well at Denim Habit in the Promenade, Marlton. These J Brand midrise jeans are $187. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer (A rainbow of skinny jeans, shorts)
Posted: March 21, 2012

Skinny, colored jeans are more than this spring's fashion must-have - they are becoming the apparel industry's savior.

Or at least that's what the pants feel like to retailers who, after nearly four years of dismal women's clothing sales, finally are experiencing an uptick.

"It's just been fabulous," said Pam Katz, owner of Lafayette Hill boutique First Impressions. Katz says her sales are up 25 percent this year over last, largely in part to the bevy of bottoms her customers are buying. "Sixty percent of my jean business is in colored denim. We are selling out in orange, neon green, hot pink - even that light, pale-blue color."

(After Princess Kate wore coral-colored jeans last week, look for that to be the shade of the moment.)

Part of the trouser trend's success comes from its mainstream allure. Jeans in jelly-bean greens, purples, and pinks are at high-end specialty stores as well as mall haunts, from Free People to Ann Taylor to the Gap.

Brett Perloff, co-owner of Denim Habit, said his stores' sales are exceeding projections, thanks in part to multiple sales of the popping pants.

"It's a trend that's appealing to people of all sizes and all budgets," said Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of the Tobe Report, which forecasts fashion merchandising trends. "Color isn't about status. This is a trend that looks great if you buy it at $19 or $199."

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, total apparel sales rose 1.5 percent in February, to $19.7 million, from $19.4 million in January. And apparel sales jumped 11.6 percent from January 2011 to January 2012, according to the National Retail Federation.

Marketing research firm NPD Group, which tracks denim sales quarterly, won't have its latest figures until next month. But NPD's Marshal Cohen predicts those numbers will rise, too. "I can almost guarantee that colored denim will play an integral role in soaring denim sales," he said.

Of course the bump - witnessed by local retailers from Knit Wit in Center City to the Gem'n'i in Cherry Hill - is not just a pants thing. Industry experts say color is driving sales of all kinds of clothes, and the mild winter has meant more shoppers in stores.

"Consumers have been excited by the warm weather and eager for the bright, flashy apparel," said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. She said the new color palette was boosting home decor sales, too. "We aren't seeing the growth we've seen prerecession. But it's starting to become OK to shop."

The "skinny" silhouette was introduced about two years ago, much to the horror of women with wide hips. But now that people are comfortable with the style, adding a shock of color makes a familiar piece fresh - and it gives shoppers reason to buy multiple pairs.

Also, the popularity of the latest color-blocking trend has given women confidence pairing turquoise pants with something other than white.

"It's a perfect confluence of events," said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director of the Doneger Group. "People's moods are lifting, and the customer is updating her favorite fashion item in quantity."

Jen Goldenberg, 45, of Bala Cynwyd has five pairs - in orange, blue, green, pink, and salmon - and she loves them for their versatility.

"I can wear them with my flats, my wedges, my pumps," said the mother of two. "I can dress them up, I can dress them down."

Bold hues came on the scene last year in both solid and striped maxi dresses. However, it was Raf Simons' spring 2011 collection for Jil Sander that made flashy pants a high-fashion go-to, Moellering said.

By fall, fashionistas were wanting J Brand and Rag & Bone in rust, red, and cobalt blue. When stores transitioned to spring stock this January, folks almost immediately began slipping into the lighter shades as fast as they appeared on the shelves.

"I've been wearing my colored jeans all winter," said Elyse Mack, 38, a personal trainer from Voorhees. She owns a pair each of Elizabeth and James, J Brand, and Paige Denim in blue, light blue, and orange. "I just mix and match them with so many different colors."

Come summer, expect to see the Skittles shades on hot pants. And, Moellering says, look for prints, in floral and geometric patterns, on denim this fall.

"Pants are getting their due again," Moellering said.


Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.

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