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The reawakening of modesty

One evening several days before the 1963 high school prom at St. Mary's High School, all attendees were required to bring their prom dresses to the convent for vetting by our principal, Mother Mary Cajetan. Everybody knew up front that no strapless dress would be approved — not, anyway, without tacked-on wide straps, improvised modesty panels and who knew what all, so why bother? Necklines judged too low would be raised with lace insertions. Spaghetti straps would be bulked up.

At the time, I have to say, it seemed excessive: What sort of God would consign a girl to eternal damnation because her prom dress shoulder straps were a quarter-inch too narrow?

I've told this story before as a quaint example of the repression teenage girls grew up with before everything changed in the late 1960s tsunami of hippies, be-ins, denim, protest, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. So I'm as surprised as anybody to find that modesty — a word missing from the fashion vocabulary for the past half-century — is once again a contender for the hearts, minds and wardrobes of American women.

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