NEW YORK - Dismal September sales results from mall-based apparel chains, released Thursday, offered fresh evidence that American consumers, spooked by the financial meltdown, shut their wallets tight last month.

The reports fueled more worries about the holiday shopping season, which was already expected to be bleak.

As results trickled in Thursday from merchants, even TJX Companies -- which offers discounts on designer brands and had been one of the few bright spots in apparel selling -- was not immune to the mounting economic woes. The Framingham, Mass.-based retailer, which operates such chains as T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods, lowered its profit outlook as it reported an unexpected drop in sales at established stores.

Others such as Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Chico's FAS Inc., which had been mired in a sales slump for months, fared far worse, reporting double-digit same-store sales declines.

According to the latest tally by Thomson First Call, same-store sales for September rose a meager 0.8 percent, the weakest September performance since the research firm started tracking retail sales in 2000.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers' final tally of 36 retail chains, same-store sales rose 1.0 percent last month, the weakest September performance since 2001 when the pace was up a meager 0.9 percent in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

TJX, hurt by a strong dollar, reported on Thursday a 1 percent drop in same-store sales, well below the 0.5 percent gain that had been expected by analysts.

Gap, dragged down by a deep sales slump at its Old Navy division, reported an 11 percent same-store sales drop, deeper than the 8.3 percent decline that analysts had predicted.

Chico's suffered a 15.6 percent drop in same-store sales, worse than the 13.0 percent decline projected.

Teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, known for its pricey high-fashion denim, reported a 14 percent drop in same-store sales. That was much worse than the 8.1 percent drop that analysts had been expecting.