Spending in department stores rose 2.8% year-on-year in November, having stayed in the red for 13 months in a row, data from Barclaycard showed.
Milder weather provided a boost to the entire high street, with spending up 1.6% year-on-year in stores as demand for winter clothing rose.
Clothing spend rebounded in November, up 8.1% - the highest level seen this year.
But store sales growth was outpaced once more by online shopping, which leapt to 21% of all spending.
So-called Black Friday last week saw spending up by more than a fifth, driven by a 41% increase in the amount forked out online.
Overall consumer spending in November lifted 3%, although average transaction values dropped 3.3% in a sign that retailers were discounting heavily in the run-up to Christmas.
Chris Wood, managing director of Barclaycard, said the Christmas shopping season had got off to a "good start", but added a note of caution.
He said: "British consumers have shown remarkable restraint during the economic downturn and they are unlikely to give up the hard-won benefits of their prudence lightly.
"So with consumers remaining cautious, we expect to see a good - but not great - Christmas shopping season."
Department store chain John Lewis posted its latest sales figures, showing a muted 1.8% rise year on year to £144.5 million in the week to Saturday.