Last holiday season, literary agent Linda Chester bought herself a fur coat, a red Ralph Rucci evening grown and suede leggings from Norman Ambrose. This season, the bicoastal fashion lover settled for costume jewelry earrings from SoHo designer Iradj Moini.

“I am definitely tightening my belt this year,” said Chester, who cited an uneven economic rebound and concerns over a possible stock-market bubble, as well as a desire to spend more on charity. “I really am not looking.”

It’s not just low-income shoppers who are pulling back on spending for loved ones and themselves this holiday season. Wealthy folks are watching their dollars, too.

While the most well-heeled shoppers still think nothing of dropping $4,600 on an Hermes tote, cracks have appeared in the $94 billion U.S. luxury market, especially for companies that cater to “Henrys” -- High Earners Not Rich Yet. Coach Inc. has said customers plan to spend less on gifts and that mall traffic fell sharply last month. Analysts predict Nordstrom Inc.’s fourth-quarter sales may grow less than half the year-ago pace of 6.1 percent. Tiffany & Co.’s third-quarter comparable sales in the Americas were barely higher. Even before Black Friday, Saks Inc., Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and Nordstrom offered 40 percent off on many brands.

With memories of the 2008 financial crash still fresh, some wealthy shoppers are questioning whether stock market gains to record highs are sustainable and cite conflicting reports about the economy, said Robin Lewis, a New York retail consultant.

Shrinking Bonuses

While the Federal Reserve reported yesterday that home and equity market gains spurred household wealth from July through September, the so-called wealth effect hasn’t resulted in a commensurate gain in spending. Some of the wealthiest will be less flush this year as Wall Street banks shrink bonuses. Goldman Sachs, along with the investment-banking divisions of six of its biggest U.S. and European rivals, allocated a collective 39 percent of revenue for compensation in the first nine months, down from 42 percent a year earlier.

“Most luxury shoppers understand the reports as net, not- positive,” Lewis said in an e-mail. “Since the luxury sector of smart, wealthy people are also captains of industry and finance, it will most certainly have a negative effect on their confidence and, therefore, spending.”

Last week, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy expanded 3.6 percent in the third quarter, faster than initially estimated. Yet burgeoning inventories drove much of the growth, increasing the most in 15 years. If sales pick up this holiday season, retailers will be able to work through the pileup of merchandise. If not, chains may be forced to unload it at profit-pinching discounts.

Flash Sales

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