Three of today's top five percentage gainers on the NYSE are clothing retailers. Leading the gainers at midday was women's apparel specialist Ann Taylor (NYSE:ANN), and pulling up fifth place was Chico's FAS (NYSE:CHS), purveyor of women's exclusively designed private-label clothing. Is it time to buy these women's retailers?

Retail stocks of all sorts have been strong since Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) exceeded its same-store sales for the five-week period ended July 1.

Today, Ann Taylor announced same-store sales fell 1.2% for the month of June. And to think the stock was up more than 10% this morning! As illogical as that stock move seems, consider that the comparable period last year had a same-store sales gain of 11.9%. Give credit where credit's due -- that's a tough act to follow.

Same-store sales, though, have been slow this year compared with last. The first quarter was weak with a 3.1% loss, but May was downright ugly with a 7.1% nosedive. So, comparatively, June's 1.2% loss looked downright thrilling, although some portion of its "strength" may be attributable to apparently stronger results across the retail sector.

A potential worry wart -- total company square footage increased 15.7% over last June, while June sales limped in with an 11% gain. Now bear in mind, this is only a one-month figure -- and by no means something to hang your hat on -- but it bears consideration going forward. In fairness, it might take some time for these stores to reach their intended markets, as customers discover these new stores and the company continues its brand makeover (see below).

Investors should read Fool Alyce Lomax's February evaluation of Ann Taylor. Alyce's favorite place to shop is the faster-growing Ann Taylor Loft division. But after fiscal year 2004's staggering fourth-quarter loss, Alyce suggested caution until the namesake brand's makeover proved to be a success. The jury is still out on that one.

While Ann Taylor (the company) is debt free and cash rich (what a catch, guys!), the company has yet to prove it is ready to match the growth of its peers. For me (and Alyce), it is too early to buy a turnaround story here.

For those looking for hot sales, look no farther than Chico's, where June same-store sales were up a scorching 18.8% and total sales shot up 40.0%. Now that's growth -- and this company is cash rich and debt free, too. The sole issue at Chico's is the company's valuation. The stock sells for 40.9 times trailing earnings and 29.8 times fiscal 2006 estimated earnings.

Analysts expect Chico's to grow earnings 25.0% annually over the next five years, handily beating the 10.6% growth rate of the S&P 500. Still, in the fickle world of women's fashion -- and there is no shortage of retailers fighting for women's retail spending -- it's my opinion that Chico's still looks too expensive. I like my stocks, as my clothing, on sale.

Looking for a modestly priced retail stock? Tom Gardner thinks he's found one in the Gap, a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned, and the only hot clothes at W.D.'s house are those coming out of the dryer! Click here to see The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.