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Mild weather gives retailers cold sweats

Jessica Brown

Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose was not alone when he said clothing sales could do with a cold snap at the retailer’s second quarter results this week.

M&S’s fashion sales may have been up during the quarter but high street retailers certainly haven’t had an easy run into the autumn season.

The bare legs seen in the front rows of the various international fashion weeks through September are also ever-present on the ordinary consumer right now, who is enjoying an extended period of mild weather. Shoppers are still dressed in their spring 09 wardrobes – dresses, sleeveless tops and mini skirts with ballet flats or sandals, and light jackets at most.

It’s not that there are no new exciting trends around, far from it – sharp tailoring, extreme shoulders, over-the-knee and ankle boots plus
an abundance of leather are all cool looks that despite the tough economy should theoretically be driving excitement and sales, particularly at the younger end of the market.

What’s worrying is that thus far this hasn’t happened, and retailers are already jittery about outerwear and knitwear stock levels in spite of the fact their buys were exceptionally tight this season.

So what does it mean for Christmas? Well, Rose’s take was that Christmas clothing sales would be “some and some”. As always there will be winners and losers depending on range quality, styling and pricing, but there are other factors at play such as increased unemployment and a distinct lack of ground frost which threaten to bring yet more discounting and to dramatically overshadow the traditional December peak.

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