WASHINGTON — Retail sales at clothing and accessory stores fell an unexpected 1.4 percent in August on a seasonally adjusted basis, reversing the 1.2 percent gain seen in July, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The drop in apparel sales in August against July doesn’t reflect the rather robust sales reports posted by most apparel chains Sept. 4. The discrepancy lead Deloitte and Touche chief economist Carl Steidtmann to conclude the government will revise the preliminary data by next month’s retail sales release.

“Consumers have got a tremendous amount of cash from refinancing and the [federal] tax cut and retailers are sitting on relatively lean inventories, so you’ve got the best of both worlds from a retail operator’s point of view,” Steidtmann said.

In addition, compared with August 2002, sales at apparel and accessory stores last month were up a strong 4 percent. Apparel and accessory stores was one of two retail categories with sales declining for the month. The other category, building materials and garden equipment, had a 0.2 percent drop.

Other retailers, however, ranging from grocery stores to car dealers, saw the pace of retail sales in August slow. Overall retail sales last month posted a 0.6 percent monthly increase, compared with a 1.3 percent gain in July.

Meanwhile, department stores in August increased 0.4 percent against July, but were down 1.6 percent from August 2002. General merchandise sales, including mass retailers, were up 1.1 percent for the month and climbed 6.1 percent from year-ago levels.

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