Number one baby clothier Carter's (NYSE:CRI) offered shares to the public today for the first time. The plan was to sell 4.7 million shares at $15 to $17, raising around $75 million, but heavy demand bumped that range to $17 to $19 and finally to the top $19 issue price, yielding a tidy $89 million.

The stock immediately rocketed 27% to above $24, leading the New York Stock Exchange gainers in the process. With 27 million shares outstanding after this initial public offering (IPO), the company sports an adult-sized market capitalization in the neighborhood of $648 million.

But while newly delivered, this is no baby. Well over a century in operation, Carter's sells baby and young children's clothing under the Tykes and Child of Mine brands in 159 of its own stores, in premium outlets, and in thousands of Wal-Marts (NYSE:WMT) and Targets (NYSE:TGT). According to studies the company cites, a whopping 95% of mothers and grandmothers know the Carter's name. Call us crazy, but we'll just bet they're the ones buying Carter's clothes.

It was after a management change in 1992 that the push was on. According to the registration statement SEC Form S-1, sales have grown on average 10% annually (CAGR) over the past five years, with operating income up 21% per year, though various charges slowed net income growth. The top managers average 20 years in the business and own 6% of the company.

As a rule, IPOs occur when prices are most advantageous for management or when the company is most desperate for cash. Both strongly counsel investors interested in a company to wait, though there are exceptions. For example, those who jumped on eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) -- such as Motley Fool Senior Analyst Jeff Fischer -- have reaped extraordinary gains. But for the most part, IPOs are financing events for the company, not opportunities for investors. Tread carefully and be ready for the occasional opportunity.

Carter's may be one. Neither a young, unproven upstart nor an explosive growth story, it's leading its niche and adding eight to 10 retail stores a year, and it's perhaps underpriced. Check it out and share your opinion on our brand -- spanking? -- new Carter's discussion board.