When Japan's star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka inked a $52 million deal to play for the Boston Red Sox in mid-December, one of the most memorable comments he made in a packed news conference on his return from the United States was that he was frustrated with having to go through an agent in the negotiations.

"I was not used to relying on agents," he said, mirroring the wariness pervasive among many Japanese in leaving such high-stake matters as salary talks in someone else's hands.

But in the equally high-stake world of fashion, the hiring of "agents" is quietly gaining ground, and seekers of their professional services are not necessarily super-rich or famous. In fact, Shizuka Inoue, a 41-year-old mother of two, who is one of about 15 "personal stylists" who register themselves with a Web site titled Personal Stylist Databank, says most of her 30 or so clients are working moms aged between 35 and 43; women who want to look good, but don't have the time to pore over fashion magazines or browse in boutiques. Inoue has more than 10 years of experience in the fashion industry, first by working for a major apparel company as a store clerk and then by helping her in-laws' boutique shop as a buyer (while also raising two children). She has built her network of clients mostly through word of mouth and her Web site since starting her business, named fashion_planner, in January last year.