JCPenney and Ann Taylor Have Pretty Cute Stuff for Fall

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Photo: Courtesy of Ann Taylor

Speaking of surprisingly cute fall merch, mass-market retailers Ann Taylor and JCPenney are stepping away from the shoulder-padded mock turtlenecks and acid-wash Mom jeans they're usually associated with, and are instead busting out fashionable items for people who don’t DVR Lifetime specials. Last year, Ann Taylor lured Senior V.P. of Design Lisa Axelson away from Club Monaco to revamp the brand, and her new collection starts trickling into stores next month, with everything landing by September 1. Even seasoned (and, okay, snobby) fashion writers like us were surprised, and found a lot to love, from leopard ballet flats to boyfriend blazers. Axelson’s jewelry seems, dare we say it, Lanvin-inspired. Think pearl-and-grosgrain necklaces.

And with JCPenney about to open its first Manhattan location next week, the store is upping its designer cool factor. Their simple, casual knits aren't half bad — if we squint, we can almost see Mary-Kate in one of their light-gray sweater dresses or fedoras. Almost. Taking a page from Target, they carry lines by well-known designers. (American Living, FYI, is code for inexpensive Ralph Lauren.) For fall, we can't help but like Allen B. by Allen B. Schwartz’s cropped leather jackets and plaid button-downs. Charlotte Ronson’s I Heart Ronson line sticks to her theme of downtown girly hipsterwear. Check out her belted sweater vests and pleated skirts. (Both Allen B. and I Heart Ronson have been at the store since spring '09.) Click ahead for some picks that just might surprise you.