Rising prices and soft consumer demand translated to a 4 percent year-over-year decline in retail sales from January through August 2023 in the U.S. apparel market. Units sold declined faster for the eight-month period, according to Circana.

“The apparel market is challenged this year, but as consumers consider ‘what they need’ versus ‘what they want,’ opportunity exists in the product categories that cross seasons and outfit consumers for hybrid lifestyles rather than for specific occasions,” said Maria Rugolo, apparel industry analyst, Circana. “Consumers want a less-structured wardrobe that allows for mixing and matching, with more flexibility for multiple looks.”

Dressier apparel is selling well this year, but the overarching theme centers on versatility to support “a casual yet polished look” for various occasions.

Dollar sales for dress pants and shirts grew by 7 percent and 2 percent, respectively, through August, according to Circana’s Retail Tracking Service. During this same period, versatile clothing items also experienced a healthy lift in sales, including casual pants, up 6 percent; woven shirts, growing 4 percent; skirts, increasing 2 percent; jackets and blazers, rising 27 percent; and tights, up 2 percent.

For the holiday season, overall apparel sales are forecasted to decline in the fourth quarter compared to 2022, according to Circana’s latest Future of Apparel findings.

Seasonal buys, including swimwear and outerwear, are expected to decline faster than total apparel sales, as those categories were recently replenished.

Bras, socks and sleepwear are projected to fare better than the market, and underwear is forecasted to be one of the only categories to grow as basics reach their renewal phase.

“Looking ahead to 2024, the movement towards polished comfort will only intensify,” said Kristen Classi-Zummo, apparel industry analyst at Circana. “As more brands blend the traits of traditional fashion and athletic comfort, this synergy will usher new opportunities for the industry while also turning up the heat on competition.”

Photo courtesy Zara