Here's TMFBent's pointless poser of the day: Is the bloody clubbing over at Wet Seal (NASDAQ:WTSLA) limited to that subpar purveyor of skimpy togs, or indicative of a bad retail season across the board?

Personally, I'm leaning toward the latter.

Yes, Wet Seal has been "turning around" so long that its original customers are moving into support hose. The dismal, 8%-ish comps drop it's expecting for September seems extreme, even for an also-ran. Besides, late last month, we got similarly bad news from much stronger companies, including Target (NYSE:TGT) and Lowe's (NYSE:LOW).

The plausible cause is plain to see. The real estate market continues to crumble. In fact, it's crumbling faster now than it was over the summer. Industrial indicators haven't looked good over the past week, either. You'd never know it, to judge by the action in stocks, but slower economic growth looks guaranteed. Given that early retail results seem to confirm a consumer-spending slowdown as well, I'm pretty sure now isn't the time to bid up retailers.

Nor am I heartened by recent executive exits. From my rats leaving (sinking?) ships file: I've got some serious doubts about upcoming numbers from Coldwater Creek (NASDAQ:CWTR). Its chairman and CEO retired to a chairman-only position -- and a measly half-million bucks a year. True Religion (NASDAQ:TRLG), which has broken the heart of many a growth-oriented retail investor hoping to have hooked the next superbrand, also lost its chief operating officer last week, as he jumped overboard to pursue those ever-suspicious "other interests."

I continue to hold retailers, but only the strong ones, like American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) or Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). I don't expect these to emerge from next week's sales-release season unscathed, but at least I know they're very healthy, and will remain so in the long run. In the event of a real economic slowdown, some of the second- and third-tier retailers won't make it out of the mall alive.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.