Saturday, June 05, 2010

Clothing Inflation Gender Gap

The chart above shows the CPI for Men's Apparel (data here) and Women's Apparel (data here) from January 1978 to April 2010. Men's clothing has appreciated by 1.06% per year since 1978, which is more than double the annual rate of appreciation for women's clothing (0.52%).  Compared to 1978, men today are paying 40% more on average for their clothing, and women are paying only 20% more.  According to the selective concern among the "gender activists" about gender imbalances, any gender outcomes that favor men can be traced to overt or "unexamined" sex discrimination. 

Q: What are we then to make of these gender imbalances in favor of women for clothing prices?  Is this an outcome of price discrimination because women are more "ruthless" in their shopping habits for clothing, male demand for clothing is more "price insensitive," and therefore men (women) pay higher (lower) prices. 



At 6/05/2010 11:27 PM, Anonymous Christy said...

I wonder if women aren't more "ruthless" as clothing shoppers because they, as a whole, purchase new items of clothing more often than men. Furthermore, I would consider shopping among women to be more of a social event (or hobby) than it is for men (the men I know go shopping when they need something and tend to have specifics in mind and a plan of action whereas women view the activity as fun and a reason to get together with friends).

At 6/06/2010 4:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the inflation in mens clothing is primarily driven by the change of mens view of fashion. There has been a significant rise in homosexuality, and "metrosexuality" over the last 30 years. Both groups are much more clothing centric than your average Joe. Even your average Joe has become more clothing focused.

At 6/06/2010 8:40 AM, Blogger DaleW said...

Rather than focusing on the end state, perhaps the beginning state of women's clothing was that margins and returns on capital were higher than for men's with incremental competitive forces driving a lower inflation rate over the time frame in question than in men's fashion.

BTW, "significant rise in homosexuality?" What is the source for that claim?

At 6/06/2010 8:51 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...

i asked a friend of mine who runs a fund specializing in consumer/retail stocks about this.

his thought was that women's clothing tends to have a higher fashion content and that styles change more quickly. as a result, women are not willing to pay as much for clothing that they do not expect to be able to wear for as long a period and that retailers are more willing to cut prices to women to move items that will rapidly go out of style and get ready for the next season/trend.

men's clothing tends to stay in fashion for longer, so retailers are less pressured to discount prices and more comfortable holding inventory for longer.

a grey mens's suit is a grey men's suit, whereas this season's hot platform shoes are next season's unsellable out of date dead inventory.

At 6/06/2010 8:58 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...


there is an adage in retailing -

"a man will always pay $20 for a $15 item he really wants while a woman will always pay $15 for a $20 item she doesn't"

it also occurs to me that there may be an economy of scale issue here - how much do women spend annually on clothing in comparison to men?

if the market for women's clothing is considerably larger and has more brands, that might help explain the price behavior.

At 6/06/2010 10:41 AM, Blogger DaleW said...

Small world. I do the same thing as your friend.

I agree with some elements of your friend's analysis. However, I would say secular supply changes are just as important as demand changes. Market share in women's apparel retail has shifted more from traditional anchor retailers to specialty retail over the last 32 years in women's clothing vs. men's, with companies such as the Gap, Ann Taylor, Limited, TJ Maxx, and Talbot's taking more share from less innovative, higher-priced companies such as JC Penney or Sears. At the same time, Walmart has attacked traditional anchor retailers on the very low end, taking pricing out of that part of the market.

When you think of the specialty apparel retailers I named above and the rise of Walmart, their biggest share grab happened from 1978 through 1998. From 1998, the share shift slowed and specialty apparel retail growth slowed. We can see these different eras in the NIPA price indexes (1).

Below we see 10-year compounded inflation / (deflation) rates in women's and men's clothing by era:

Men's: 2.5%
Women's: 1.2

Men's: 0.5%
Women's: (0.6%)

Men's: (1.5%)
Women's: (1.5%)

I think this illustrates a how change happened in the first two time periods and I would say that was supply-side oriented and not as much demand-side oriented.

The most notable changes in apparel retail are happening in Europe and globally, with Inditex, H&M, and Fast Retailing. Those companies are taking massive share from traditional high street shops and department stores in Europe, feeding the dynamic your friend mentioned. They can deliver fashion quickly at low prices, making fashion more disposable and satisfying a highly discretionary consumption urge at a low price. Women in the US spend 1.5x as much as men on clothing (2,3) per capita, so I think there has been more room for supply side innovation in the US as well as globally.




At 6/06/2010 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Women in the US spend 1.5x as much as men on clothing

Only 1.5x? I'm surprised it's that low. How is clothing defined?

At 6/06/2010 12:44 PM, Blogger DaleW said...

This doesn't include shoes (which would probably skew a little more toward women than garments, though guys like to spend on high-tech athletic shoes, specific boots, and so forth). Shoes and other (mainly shoes) make up 18% of total clothing expenditures. These are NIPA tables.

At 6/06/2010 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the 1.5x number doesn't consider the totality of the "fully clothed" woman: garments, undergarments, shoes, jewelry, makeup, and handbags.

At 6/06/2010 5:03 PM, Anonymous grant said...

MP how about a comparison chart on earnings.

At 6/07/2010 5:28 PM, Blogger Kelly Valenzuela said...

Weird! Men's clothing is always so much cheaper than women's. Maybe men are becoming more fashion conscious, so manufacturers are taking this opportunity to close that gap? The rise of the metro-sexual? lol!


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