Teen sales were dragged down by Abercrombie & Fitch Co., which has been abandoned by teens flocking to lower-priced stores, and even by some stores that have fared better during the recession.
American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale Inc. performed sharply worse than what analysts had predicted.
"The shift in priorities for holiday, post-back-to-school, is clearly not on apparel," for teens, said NPD Group analyst Marshal Cohen.
Gift cards and electronics are a higher priority for them, he said.
Some teen standbys remain popular, such as jeans, graphic T-shirts, athletic shoes and winter boots, Cohen said. But adults are more likely to get clothes as gifts than teens this year, he said.
The shift has partly to do with the length of the recession, Cohen said. Parents have been less likely to cut back on kids than themselves but eventually have had to cut back on everything.
Given the weak economy, "teenagers have less disposable income," Cohen said, in part because fewer are employed.
Still, the trend won't last forever.
"Teen retailers are always the last to show the recession, but also one of the first to recover out of it," Cohen said.