September can be a nerve-racking month for apparel retailers. They have to get the fall assortment in the stores, but will customers be ready to buy fleece and sweaters? The unseasonably warm weather for most of the month this year spelled a resounding "no" for Kohl's (NYSE:KSS). The company reported comparable-store sales for the month down 3.2%, with the biggest impacts in weather-sensitive categories.

The company added to the downbeat tone by guiding Wall Street toward the lower end of a $0.67-to-$0.71 third-quarter earnings-per-share range. The stock went on a roller-coaster ride, rising more than 4% in early trading, but ultimately drifting back to where it started. By the end of the day, traders realized that its initial price appreciation was all part of a retail fantasyland.

Several other retailers reported soft sales and warned about third-quarter earnings on Thursday, including Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN), Target (NYSE:TGT), J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP), and American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO). The big surprise of the day was Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), which reported softer-than-expected sales but raised its earnings guidance, prompting a burst of irrational exuberance from Wall Street.

For me, Kohl's soft September is not terribly meaningful. True, this marks two consecutive months of negative comps, after August's 0.6% drop. But the company has been running against very strong prior-year numbers for the last few months. In 2006, comps increased 5.2% in August and 16.3% in September.

It's also true that the company rolled into the third quarter with inventories a little higher than I'd like to see; they were up 17% at the end of July, on a 9% sales increase. September wasn't the real test of how Kohl's fall apparel lineup will fare, since early-season weather can be fickle.

Instead, October will be important to watch. Temperatures have been dropping for the past few weeks, and Kohl's will benefit from a calendar shift this month. If we don't see sales rebound meaningfully in October, there could be something more in the wind here than a short-term temperature inversion.

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