WASHINGTON — Women’s apparel prices at retail and wholesale showed only marginal inflation in March.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday in its Consumer Price Index that retail prices for women’s apparel in March increased a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent against February but were down 0.9 percent against March 1993 levels. Prices for all goods increased 0.3 percent for the month and 2.5 percent from year-earlier levels.

Wholesale prices for U.S.-manufactured women’s apparel in March increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent against February, the same increase seen for all finished goods, while prices for textiles at the producer level were down 0.1 percent.

Compared to March 1993, women’s apparel prices at wholesale were up 0.1 percent, and textile prices were off 0.1 percent. Wholesale prices for all finished goods were up 0.2 percent over the 12-month period.

Carl Priestland, economist with the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, said the slight inflation at the producer and retail levels bodes well for a continued strengthening of the economy.

“It’s not the same kind of robust recovery we’ve seen. We’re not rushing out of recession, which provides better grounding for further growth instead of what you get when the economy takes off and inflation takes hold,” Priestland said.

Overall, apparel prices at retail increased 0.8 percent and were down 0.5 percent from March 1993, while girls’ apparel prices were up 0.5 percent for the month and down 0.7 percent over the year. Men’s wear prices were unchanged for the month and down 2.4 percent over the 12-month period.

The year-to-year declines in retail apparel prices are unusual, given that March is typically the month for full-price spring introductions, a Labor analyst said. By comparison, women’s apparel prices last March were up 4.1 percent against March 1992. In March 1991, women’s apparel prices posted a 12-month increase of 2.9 percent.

Among the women’s apparel categories with notable retail price fluctuations were coats and jackets, down 1.3 percent for the month and down 3.6 percent from March 1993; and dresses, down 4.7 percent in March and down 2 percent over the 12-month period.

Retail prices for separates and sportswear increased 2.2 percent for the month and 2.4 percent from March 1993, as suits increased 1.8 percent last month and 5.6 percent over the year.

Meanwhile, wholesale prices for all apparel were unchanged in March against February and were up 0.2 percent over the year. In addition, prices for men’s and boys’ apparel at the producer level were unchanged for the month and were up 0.3 percent from year-ago levels. Wholesale prices for girls’, children’s and infants’ apparel in March increased 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent from year-ago levels.

Women’s apparel categories experiencing notable wholesale price fluctuations were sweaters, jackets and jerseys, up 0.8 percent for the month and 0.8 percent over the year; slacks, down 0.2 percent from February and 3.4 percent from March 1993; and blouses and shirts, down 0.3 percent from February and up 3.5 percent over the 12-month period.

Inflation in the domestic textile industry has been nonexistent, with prices declining about 0.1 percent monthly for five months, said Dave Link, economist with the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. Link was surprised to see wholesale textile prices decline in March, given that cotton and man-made prices have been on the rise.

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