People’s spending on apparel isn’t likely to pick up anytime soon, forecast Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte Research and author of the group’s Leading Index of Consumer Spending. The index measures real wages and home prices, initial unemployment claims and tax burden.

“Apparel in particular faces a very difficult environment, exceeded only by large-ticket items like autos and home improvements,” the economist said. Spending on apparel, much of which is discretionary, Steidtmann noted, “is greatly affected by income growth, and real income growth is being hurt by flat-to-declining employment and very weak wage growth.

“This will be a fairly extended episode, and we’ll know it’s over when the value of people’s houses stop falling,” Steidtmann added, alluding to the portion of individuals’ finances pegged to their home equity.

By the Numbers: Women’s Apparel Consumption, 2007

Consumer spending on women’s apparel: $103.1 billion, up 1.1 percent

Category realizing biggest spending increase: Fleecewear, up 7.1 percent to $2.3 billion

Category seeing steepest spending decrease: Accessories, down 4.5 percent to $2.3 billion

Items garnering largest overall outlays: Tops, up 2.1 percent to $34.8 billion

Highest average price: Outerwear, $41.11 per item, up 1.1 percent

Lowest average price: Hosiery, $2.21 per item, up 2.8 percent

Source: The NPD Group, february 2008

This story first appeared in the March 5, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.