Gean Garrett saved her best holiday shopping for last -- gifts for herself.

Garret, a Sterling resident browsing through a record shop at Tysons Corner yesterday, said her husband concedes he's no world-class shopper, so he lets her pick out her own presents. "He's doing the laundry back at home and I'm doing the shopping. It works out just fine -- that way I don't have to take things back," Garrett said.

Unseasonably warm weather and holiday shoppers who dawdled until the weekend before Christmas helped bolster retail sales in Northern Virginia malls that had suffered some malaise from the inclement economy.

Landmark Shopping Center in Alexandria, celebrating its first Christmas season since a vast renovation was completed in August, was jammed with people rummaging through everything from lingerie to toy trucks run by remote control.

"The gloom and doom that was around about the economy at the beginning of the season lowered expectations, but the stores have done really well since," said Kathleen McManus, one of the managers at Landmark. "I was talking with three retailers over lunch the other day and they were all above their plan. They were ecstatic."

Landmark's 2 1/2-year expansion has increased the number of stores from 40 to 140.

But the new look also created some problems, with the unfamiliar parking layout causing some nasty traffic tie-ups. Two weekends ago, the backup on adjacent Duke Street led to such a jam that some people left their cars and walked home, McManus said.

She added, however, that the staff learned its lesson and has placed 20 security and police officers in the lot to keep cars moving and tempers down.

Annandale resident Kathy Kysar said that overall the Landmark renovation is "a huge improvement, probably 1,000 percent" over the old outdoor mall. "It's even enclosed so you don't have to fight the elements," Kysar said. "And it's cheaper than Tysons."

Georgetown Leather Design's Tysons Corner outlet thanked several last-minute customers for choosing its merchandise. "We had people at 9:15 waiting at the door," for the store to open at 10 a.m., said store manager Farah Hadjikarimi.

Betty Ruppert, of McLean, waited for a Tysons men's store to open yesterday, having let her husband's gifts go until three days before Christmas. Shirts were at the top of her list because "his collar size has expanded over the past year," Ruppert said.

In Montgomery County, traffic on Rockville Pike, sluggish on Saturdays remote from the Christmas season, was moving briskly yesterday morning. By 10:30 a.m., the parking lot at White Flint Mall was only half full.

Anticipating crowds, Sandi Verbos had left early yesterday from her home in Harrisburg, Pa., for the 1 1/2-hour drive to Rockville.

"We thought we'd have problems," said Verbos, who came to look for a black velvet Christmas dress for her daughter, Lisa, on vacation from her freshman year at Boston University. "It was a pleasant surprise to pull right in."

Asked whether she had trouble finding a parking space, Anna Beckman, of Potomac, burst out laughing.

"We didn't want to come because we thought we'd never find a place to park," said Beckman, who brought her daughter, Bria Lawrence, of Gaithersburg, to shop for a diamond bracelet that they intended to share.

Foggy patches lingered for most of the day throughout the region, the National Weather Service reported, but the dampness was offset by unusually warm weather. The temperature reached 64 degrees at National Airport -- cooler than the record high of 72 degrees set in 1889.

At Wheaton Plaza, shoppers were arriving in crowds dense enough to create occasional competition. Ethel Squire, of Durwood, was waiting for a car to pull out of a space when another shopper "pulled in front of me and told me it was 'too bad, lady.' " When Squire got out and complained, the interloping driver relinquished the space.