Though I've never actually tried one on, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't look good in a dress. Nevertheless, as housing prices fall and gas prices rise, I'm intrigued by the current experience of women's clothing retailers.

Following female-focused clothier Cato's (NYSE:CTR) latest quarterly earnings release on Thursday, I dug through its website, along with those of rivals such as Christopher & Banks (NYSE:CBK), Ann Taylor (NYSE:ANN), Dress Barn (NASDAQ:DBRN), and Chico's FAS (NYSE:CHS). My conclusion: It seems easier to buy a spring ensemble than to bore into these firms' investor relations information.

Eventually, I discovered that Cato chalked up net income of $18.7 million, or $0.59, in the most recent quarter, compared to $20.8 million, or $0.65, in the year-ago period. At the same time, quarterly sales were $224.1 million, down 2% from last year's $229.7 million.

"Lower sell-throughs of regular priced goods had a negative impact on sales and gross margin in the first quarter," said John Cato, the company's chairman, president, and CEO, in the release. "As a result of higher than planned inventories at the end of the first quarter, we expect higher markdowns in the second quarter." 

In short, the quarter was about as pretty as I might look in a dress. Cato continues to grow, with management expecting to open 70 new stores and close another 10 this year. Still, I'd suggest that before you begin or expand any holdings here, interested Fools should let the company work off its admittedly pudgy inventories, allowing consumers to take a broad and defined stand.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.