Strong sales of T-shirts, jeans, tailored clothing and pyjamas helped fuel growth in the apparel industry in 2005, pushing sales up by 4% over the previous year according to an industry study.

Total US apparel sales reached $181bn in 2005 research company The NPD Group said, led by a 5% increase in sales of men's apparel which was worth nearly $53bn in 2005.

"The surge in men's apparel sales came from some of the most unexpected places, such as young men buying a suit. Teens and young adult men have finally 'discovered the suit'," said NPD chief industry analyst, Marshal Cohen.

Men's tailored clothing (suits, suit separates and sportscoats/jackets) led the sales surge, rising by 7% to more than $5bn. Combined sales of suits, suit separates and sportscoats/jackets to young men grew 53% among men ages 18-24.

Another big category winner - men's tops - accounted for 38% of the men's apparel market, climbing 6% in sales; dress shirts and polo/golf/rugby shirts fuelled much of the growth in the category, up 10% and 14% respectively.

Sales in women's apparel also grew, reaching $101bn, a 3% increase from 2004. Children's apparel sales grew 2% to $27bn.

Women spent $2.6bn on hats and scarves, driving an 11% increase in the category. Women's sleepwear sales generated nearly $4bn in 2005, a 10% increase in dollars from 2004.

It was also a strong year for women's intimate apparel as the $9.6bn industry expanded by nearly 4% in 2005.

Big investments were made in the women's jean sector. In 2005, women's jeans were worth $7.6bn, up nearly 10% in sales. 

"Last year was a clear indication of where the consumer is heading for 2006. Today's consumer enjoys splurging on higher-end products now and then, but their quest for value still remains," said Cohen.