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Gains in Womenswear Lift Consumer Spending on Apparel and Footwear in December

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Are women rediscovering apparel?

According to data released last week by the U.S. Commerce Department, consumer spending on female apparel had its biggest rise in over a year and a half. On a 12-month smoothed basis, spending was up 2.9% in December, to an annualized $180 billion, compared to only a 1.8% increase in men’s and boys’ apparel spending and a .5% increase in childrenswear.

The increase in womenswear, by far the largest segment in the apparel market, helped push the total apparel spending increase to 2.4%, beating out footwear, which rose 2.1%. Total spending on clothing in the U.S. was $298 billion in 2014, government figures showed.

Spending on men’s and children’s apparel, though growing more slowly than women’s, have also been trending up in recent months. All of these categories underperformed total personal consumption expenditure growth, however, which turned in a 4 percent increase. Throughout 2014 consumer expenditures got a lift from increases in spending on health care, home and meals purchased outside the home.

December represented the seventh straight month of accelerating womenswear spending growth.

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Apparel and footwear spending as a percent of total disposable income, which is sometimes referred to as its “share of wallet,” fell from over 4.3% in 1994 to bottom out at just over 2.7% in June 2009. Since then, it has risen to what appears to be a “new normal” of around 2.8%. Despite spending almost $375 billion in 2014 on the combined categories, Americans have been able to dedicate less of their budgets to clothing, due to declining prices and plentiful supply of product, and free up dollars for more inflationary categories like housing and health care.

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