When are you too old for ribbon pattern tights, furry leg warmers, high heels and sparkly frocks? Late 20s? Early 30s? According to “Glow” magazine, launched last month, women are free to boldly wear these kind of fashions well into their 40s. The front cover of the magazine’s first issue shows one model wearing a short silver lamé dress while the other sports some fake-fur, leopard-print leggings tied at the side with a cute ribbon. The look has been dubbed otona kawaii (adult cute) and it’s been catching on in a big way over the past few years.

The idea is not to religiously copy fashions aimed at a younger market, but to carefully tone down bolder fashions while still maintaining a youthful sense of fun. The editor of Glow states on Asahi.com that they conducted interviews with women in their 40s about fashion before the launch and found out that these ladies were not only interested in brand-name items, but were also keen to buy trendier fast-fashion items. Therefore Glow will be featuring high-class brands such as Hermès and Gucci alongside cheaper fast-fashion names like H&M.

The sexy bold look of Glow closely resembles the teenage gyaru fashions that can be found at stores such as Shibuya’s 109. Indeed, according to Tokyo Kawaii, there are now organized shopping tours for women in their 40s who want to peruse the glittering aisles of 109 together. While embarrassed to shop in the teen paradise alone, the women feel they can shake off their shame in a group.

Not everyone is singing the praises of otona kawaii. A few years ago, according to Excite News, men’s magazine Tarzan ran a piece on kimo wakaii. The phrase is used to describe older women, who don’t dress appropriately from their age – or look “like mutton dressed as lamb,” which is how my grandmother used to put it. According to Tarzan, the line between otona kawaii and kimo wakaii is dangerously thin.

A magazine offering up an alternative to dressing yourself up in flashy youthful frocks also launched last month. While aimed at the same age bracket as Glow, the model on the cover of Liniere (リンネル) magazine is displaying a lot less flesh than the feisty females at Glow. She sports a sensible cardigan on top of a baggy shapeless dress and the whole ensemble is completed with a dowdy shawl. The women at Liniere are going for a tasteful natural look consisting of muted colors and shapeless cotton garments that are almost guaranteed to ensure nobody accuses you of dressing too young. But do women really have to dress up in sack cloth and ashes once they hit the big four oh?

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