High Heels, Open-Toe Sandals Gain Share Amid a Return to Occasion-Based Shopping

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Party shoes are on the rise as consumers return to in-person events like cocktail parties and weddings.

“Dress footwear sales are shifting away from pumps — a more conservative and work-oriented style — to open-toe sandals, which are more occasion-oriented,” said Beth Goldstein, fashion footwear and accessories analyst at NPD.

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Overall, NPD found that between January and May of 2022, high heels gained market share over lower heels, driven by the return to events and occasions. This marks a shift away from strictly athletic and comfort styles that defined much of the pandemic.

For men, hybrid footwear styles that blend sneaker soles with more formal silhouettes made up about one third of the sales for oxfords, drivers, and loafers between January and May, up from the less than 20% in 2019, NPD Retail Tracking data found.

“Although still not back to pre-pandemic sales levels, men’s dress footwear is showing a strong recovery and is the fastest-growing area of the men’s market, comping against a particularly challenged year,” Goldstein said. “Looking at pockets of growth compared to pre-pandemic 2019, the men’s market is all about the hybrid footwear styles.”

The data tracks with what retailers have said throughout Q1. In the last few months, executives from Macy’s, Nordstrom and Caleres observed a shift to dressy and casual footwear and apparel, as more people engaged in social events and in-person work.

In Q1, executives from Macy’s and Nordstrom both cited a return to occasion-based dressing. Sales at the Macy’s-owned Bloomingdale’s in Q1 on an owned-plus-licensed basis were up 26.9%, driven by sales of dresses, men’s tailored, men’s and women’s contemporary apparel and luggage.

“The shopper made a meaningful shift to post-pandemic categories, such as dresses, men’s suits, shoes, fragrances, beauty, and luggage, while pandemic categories slowed (casual, active wear, home, and soft textiles),” wrote Cowen Equity Research analysts in a note about Macy’s.

Genesco, which owns Journeys, Johnston & Murphy and Schuh, highlighted an overarching shift from athletic to casual styles, which has been a theme across Genesco’s geographies and brands. Caleres, which owns Famous Footwear, said its 46% year-over-year sales improvement in its brand portfolio was a result of strong consumer demand, “particularly for dress occasion and wear-to-work products,” said CEO Diane Sullivan.

NPD also found that sales of evening bags between January and May 2022 grew faster than the rest of the handbag market compared to last year, with evening bags sales recovering to 2019 levels.

The Neiman Marcus Group-owned Bergdorf Goodman also cited a surge in occasion dressing and recovery in NYC, reporting that handbag sales were up almost 80% and shoes netted a 60% increase. Fine apparel up was over 30%.

Within apparel, NPD found that dress sales picked up 42% compared to last year and were up 14% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019. NPD’s consumer tracking service found that almost one-third of U.S. consumers are buying dresses for a special occasion.

“Dresses are making a strong comeback, after being one of the most hard-hit areas of the apparel market when the pandemic began,” said Maria Rugolo, apparel industry analyst at NPD. “The trend today is on both sides of the spectrum: the casual and the ultra-dressy.”

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