Retailers at trade show Moda UK were nervous about the coming season after what many described as the worst ever start to a year.
One West Midlands-based womenswear retailer said trading had been abysmal. "This was my worst season to date. Everyone started their Sales before Christmas, and you either join in or you're dead.
"We're set for a tough year because interest rates have started to bite, along with utility bills, pensions and the weather. It all adds up to people only buying one top instead of two. There's less disposable income around. I'm keeping half my budget back to buy in-season, because forward order is too dangerous."
Glenda White, owner of four-store womenswear chain Castlemoor in Devon and Somerset, was more optimistic about spring, but agreed it had been quiet since Christmas. "January and February are always terrible, but this year was worse than expected. The January Sale no longer holds much appeal. People are just Saled out."
Mark Harris, owner of womenswear store Mona Lisa in Bournemouth, who also runs wholesale business Mark Time Fashion, said that of the 12 stores he regularly visited, all were finding trading difficult. He added: "We're in for a tough year - unless we have an early, long, hot summer."
Exhibitors at the show said visitor levels appeared to be lower than hoped, but they were largely content. Imprevu sales director Michelle Crossland said: "It could have been busier but we've had our key people in and a few new orders. It's tough out there."
Exhibitors and visitors at Moda Menswear reported a subdued mood, with buyers thin on the ground. But organisers said early indications showed that visitor numbers across menswear and womenswear were up.
Martin Jones, manager of Vaughan Davies in Mold in north Wales, said he was still hoping to clear an excess of winter stock with a February Sale. He said: "I'm not looking for heavier product now because we have some left."
Hoffmann Rainer, co-owner of Washington in Great Dunmow, Essex, said: "We've got the same budget as last year, but three seasons ago we switched from 80% forward order to only 20%, and a lot of suppliers are providing better stock services to support that."