Byline: Alison Maxwell

WASHINGTON — Retail prices of women’s apparel dropped in November for the first time since July due to early holiday discounting, the Labor Depart-ment reported Tuesday.
Women’s apparel prices declined 0.7 percent in November, after monthly increases of 2.6 and 0.6 in September and October respectively, according to the Consumer Price Index. In July, prices plummeted 2.6 percent, the largest monthly decline since February of 1989. “Since prices were up earlier in the fall season, we might be seeing a correction this month,” a Labor Department economist said. “In the early fall, apparel prices enter the market at introductory prices and then, as the season progresses, prices are discounted until clearance.”
Apparel industry consultant Carl Priestland agreed, saying, “There’s a lot of sales stuff out there. Retailers are trying to get the consumer in the store with bargains. It’s just part of retailing. They put out a lot more merchandise with higher prices and now they’re selling these items off at discount.”
Year-over-year women’s prices last month dropped 1 percent and underscored the long-term trend of price deflation in apparel.
“Selling apparel is a tough, competitive business, and it’s not going to get any less competitive with retailers running after the consumer dollar,” Priestland said.
Retail prices of all apparel dipped 0.5 percent for the month, after a 0.6 percent increase in October and a steep 1.2 percent September increase. Of all major expenditure categories, which include food, housing, transportation and medical care, apparel experienced the only monthly and yearly decreases.
Compared with November 1998, prices were down 1 percent. Prices of men’s apparel suffered, declining 1.1 percent for the month and 0.4 percent year-over-year.
In women’s apparel segments, dress prices were down 3.3 percent from October and down 1.4 percent from year-ago levels. A Labor Department analyst attributed the price volatility to the “cyclical pricing nature” of dresses. Suits and separates — not seasonally adjusted because of a shorter sampling period — dropped 1.9 percent in November, but were up 0.1 percent from a year ago.
Women’s outerwear prices dipped 1.7 percent for the month and 3.5 percent for the year.
“Outerwear has really been suffering,” the Labor analyst said. “The market is having difficulties with poor sales, selection and mild winters.”
Overall, consumer prices rose at the slowest pace in five months in November as flat energy prices and a drop in tobacco costs helped keep inflation tame.
Prices rose just 0.1 percent for the month and 2.6 year-over-year. The core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, rose 0.2 percent in November. In October, the overall and core indexes rose 0.2 percent.

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