TOKYO -- A bold, new fashion that features items resembling bras and corsets but worn over other clothing is taking off.
On the sidewalks of Japanese cities, 20- and 30-something women can be seen sporting this new gear.
The appeal of putting these clothes over -- rather than under -- most of the rest of an outfit seems to rest in their being ... let's call it cute.
The new bustiers also allow women some flexibility regarding two recent fashion trends (more on that later).
A big fan of the style is Risako Sugita, a college student in western Tokyo's Chofu. Wearing a lacy, black quasi-bustier, the 22-year-old said it was "love at first sight" when she first spotted the look in a magazine. That was sometime last year. Since then, she has bought about 20 of the bikinilike tops.
"There are many stylish and cute undergarments, but the problem is you have little, if any, chance to sport them in front of others," Sugita said. "I like these bustiers because you can wear them under something else but make them visible, or you can wear them as the outermost layer."
Fashion aficionados are undeterred by the risk of potentially appearing too far out there.
"I'm more fascinated by their cuteness than to worry about feeling shy wearing them," said a 29-year-old housewife who lives in Kameyama, in the western prefecture of Mie. "I know they can be a bit shocking to people, so I'm careful about where I wear them, but I get generally positive comments from friends."
Shun Iwata, editor-in-chief of Vivi, a Kodansha-published fashion magazine, said outer-lingerie has won over Japanese women for the flexibility it allows and in spite of the bold statement the garments make.
"Layering and exposing some skin have been two major fashion trends in recent years," Iwata said. "The bustierlike items conveniently lend themselves to both of these styles. Plus, they have spread from fashion-conscious women to a wider part of the population."
Doing a search for "bustier" on the Wear smartphone app, which allows users to post fashion snapshots, turned up over 7,600 results in mid-March.
Mami Fujimoto of Start Today, which operates the app, said the offbeat fashion may be related to the popularity of "normcore" -- a fashion trend characterized by unpretentious, "normal" appearances.
"I think [normcore] caused a counter-reaction," Fujimoto said, "and people started to jump on items that they can use to project a strikingly different image."
Another up-and-coming undergarment-inspired item is a very wide belt that resembles a corset.
These are popular at Mash Holdings' Lily Brown, which is also selling a lot of similar items that cover the entire waist. A company spokesperson said the things are selling at double the year-ago pace.
"They're popular among a wide range of ages, from teens to women in their 30s," the representative said. "Some of our outlets run out as soon as they receive deliveries."
Fashion journalist Rie Miyata traces the roots of the outer-lingerie boom to a style that popped up a few years ago in leading brands' collections in which lingerie was prominently featured in combination with street clothes.
"You now have a wide range of choices, including designs and materials, that don't go too far in being sexy or cute," Miyata said. "And this has prompted adult women to start introducing [outer-lingerie items] to their wardrobes."
The outer bustiers, in particular, Miyata said, have the potential to find their way onto even more sidewalks.