This industry includes establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of a general line of women's ready-to-wear clothing. This category also includes establishments primarily engaged in the specialized retail sale of women's coats, suits, and dresses. Custom tailors primarily engaged in making women's clothing to individual order are classified in SIC 5699: Miscellaneous Apparel and Accessory Stores.
Women's Clothing Stores
In 2003, $33.8 billion was spent at stores devoted exclusively to women's apparel. This substantial increase over previous years was a sign of the rebounding economy and change in consumer tastes. While the discounters, namely Target and Wal-Mart, were continuing to do well, the more upscale stores were seeing a new surge in spending. While consumer demand for luxury and high quality items was high, most of the purchases in this category were made for those items either from lower-priced brands or items on sale. All but 20 percent of the purchases at women's clothing stores were for apparel and accessory items with price points below $40. Consumers spent a total $2.3 billion in dresses, $2.2 billion on various tops, and $3.6 billion on pants, skirts, and shorts in 2003.
In the mid-2000s, those employed by the industry were mostly working as sales associates, who are responsible for performing customer service and a variety of operational duties such as setting up displays and organizing stock. Store managers oversee sales, operations, and personnel functions. Merchandisers work with the apparel manufacturers to select apparel for the retailer and control merchandise expenses.
The structure of the U.S. retail industry, including women's clothing stores, has changed significantly since the early 1990s, moving from a production-driven market to a consumer-driven market. Nontraditional retailers, such as discounters, off-priced stores, and factory outlets, fared well.
Because of continuing competition from nontraditional retailers, department stores such as J.C. Penney and specialty stores such as The Limited increased their focus on private labels. For example, J.C. Penney's Arizona clothing line offered uniqueness and style that national brand labels sold by discounters and outlet stores did not provide.
In the mid-1990s, consumers demanded more convenience and quicker service from growing no-store retailing, particularly in direct-mail order, television, and online shopping. An Internet shopping study by Ernst & Young LLP reported that the number of retailers selling online tripled in 1998 to 39 percent. The online market was estimated to reach $13 billion in sales at the end of 1999.
The relationship between larger retailers and suppliers significantly intensified because a growing number of retailers were taking on entrepreneurial roles traditionally performed by apparel producers. Larger retailers and direct-mail order companies were making decisions in areas such as product design, fabric selection and procurement, and apparel production, which in turn influenced production scheduling, pricing, and delivery dates.
Women's clothing stores were introduced in Europe in the late 1700s—slightly later in the American colonies—at a time when productive capability, population, and prosperity allowed clothing production to move out of the house and into the factory, and clothes to move into retail stores. Around this time, seamstresses began opening shops offering custom-made hats, dresses, cloaks, or other garments. These garments of the latest fashion were for those who could afford to hire out the work of stitching. Trading posts in the frontier areas carried cloth and some ready-made apparel.
The invention of the sewing machine, the rise of mass production, and the proliferation of retail stores by the late nineteenth century led people first to sample and later to rely on ready-made clothing for sale as a reliable means of obtaining fashionable clothing. In the 1890s...