Fashion Footwear Is Making a Comeback — But It’s Not What You Think

Fashion footwear sales are rebounding following a steep decline as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed consumers indoors — but that doesn’t mean shoppers are swapping their sneakers for dress shoes just yet.

According to The NPD Group, total fashion footwear sales in the United States rose 7% year over year to $2 billion during the first quarter. While men’s improved 8% to $483.1 million, the women’s category advanced 3% to $1.42 billion. The figures, added the market research firm, increased not only compared to 2020, but also the year before that.

Executive director and industry analyst of fashion footwear and accessories Beth Goldstein attributed the movement to “stronger-than-anticipated sales in March — likely driven by the stimulus rollout, spring weather and an earlier Easter, on top of the easy comparison to last year,” when the coronavirus outbreak was taking hold in the U.S.

However, she explained, “while nearly all types of footwear improved compared to 2020 as expected, in the fashion space it was the more casual, comfort and athleisure-oriented categories that continued to perform best and grew versus 2019.” Goldstein added that “dressier fashion styles continued to struggle” and remained down double digits versus 2019.

A bright spot for the sub-sector was the performance of children’s fashion footwear, which saw sales surge 78% to $142.9 million. This growth was attributed to the Easter shift and the reopening of schools across the country.

Experts have suggested that a gradual return to the office and willingness to travel post-vaccination could reignite demand for some types of fashion footwear, but comfort will still remain a key consumer consideration. In its fourth-quarter conference call with analysts, Steve Madden CEO Ed Rosenfeld said that the shoe maker is beginning to see momentum in sandals and certain dress styles that typically perform during the spring.

“In the sandal category, we’re doing really well,” he said in late February. “We’ve got flat sandals that the customer is really responding to — and even dress sandals, anything with big jewels on it [and] oversized embellishment [as well as] wovens.”

In its report, NPD also noted that total U.S. leisure footwear sales jumped 41% to $4.3 billion from the prior-year period, with men’s and women’s climbing a respective 39% to $2 billion and 45% to $1.3 billion. Kids, meanwhile, were up 39% to $973.9 million.

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