WASHINGTON — A decline in women’s apparel retail prices in September was offset by an increase in men’s, boys’ and girls’ clothing prices that left overall retail apparel prices flat, according to the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index released Wednesday.
Women’s apparel prices fell a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in September, while men’s apparel prices rose 1.2 percent. Boys’ and girls’ apparel prices also saw some pricing strength, rising 0.7 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.
“Generally speaking, there is not too much pricing pressure in terms of apparel,” said James Bohnaker, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. “The only areas of the core CPI that are driving price increases are food and shelter.”
Bohnaker said weak apparel prices are tied to “relatively weak” commodity prices.
“It seems like apparel demand is modest and not growing very rapidly,” he said. “One thing that could help that is lower prices elsewhere, especially for gasoline. That is one area where consumers will quickly notice they are spending less on gas and finding more room in their budget for discretionary purchases like apparel, especially heading into the holiday season.”
In the women’s category, outerwear prices fell 4.2 percent, while prices for suits and separates dropped 1.3 percent and prices in the combined underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories category declined 1 percent. Women’s dress prices showed the only sign of strength last month, rising 4.2 percent.
In men’s wear, the biggest increase in retail prices was for the combined suits, sport coats and outwear category, which increased 3.2 percent. Prices for shirts and sweaters rose 2.5 percent, while prices for furnishings rose 0.5 percent. Prices for pants and shorts fell 1.3 percent.
The overall CPI rose 0.1 percent last month and core prices, excluding volatile food and energy prices, also edged up 0.1 percent.
“Food remains the major thorn in the consumer’s side, with meat, and especially beef, the worst hit of late,” said Michael Montgomery, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “Retailers should hope that shoppers fill their gas tanks on the way home from the food store rather than on the way to the store, as the bad taste left in consumers’ mouths from high meat prices would at least be partially assuaged by gasoline pump prices falling 3.6 percent from a year ago and 5.1 percent in the past two months.”