WASHINGTON — Women’s retail apparel prices slid a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent in April compared with March and a year ago, although prices are still higher in 2005, according to the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index released Wednesday.

Prices on women’s apparel have fluctuated this year, rising in January, falling in February and rising in March, making for a 0.6 percent cumulative increase in the first four months.

“The prices are up and consumers are not balking,” said Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board.

The Commerce Department reported last week that sales at apparel and accessory stores for the four-month period picked up 4.7 percent to $57.4 billion.

The price increases stem partly from the weak dollar, as well as from retailers that are charging more, Goldstein said. Women might also be looking to renew their wardrobes after holding off for a while.

Increasing prices over the first part of the year may indicate that fall and holiday prices will also rise, Goldstein said.

Products losing pricing ground within the women’s apparel category included outerwear, which dipped 1.1 percent in April and 6.9 percent compared with a year ago, as well as suits and separates, which declined 0.6 percent for the month and 3.8 percent from a year earlier.

Dresses bucked the trend, as prices strengthened 2.1 percent for the month and 3.2 percent against April 2004.

In the overall economy, consumer prices, propelled by higher energy costs, rose 0.5 percent in April, coming after an 0.6 percent upswing in March.

Factoring out food and energy prices, which can fluctuate significantly from month to month, overall retail prices were flat in April, having risen 0.4 percent in March. It was the first time since November 2003 that prices in this category, known as the core rate of inflation, did not rise.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of things to come,” said John Lonski, senior economist at Moody’s Investors Service. “I wouldn’t look at this being definitive evidence of a peak in core CPI inflation. We’re still going to see the rate of core CPI climb higher, though apparel prices, outside of footwear, might be left behind.”

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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