Nov. 27, 2006 — -- Not so long ago, when a society woman flashed a hint of leg from beneath her petticoat, onlookers gasped.
Today, when Britney Spears displays her private parts to the paparazzi, the world points and laughs.
Spears is the latest star to give people a glimpse of what's usually covered up, a trend that asks the question: What value, if any, does culture place on modesty today?
On Nov. 22, cameras caught Spears, the recently separated pop star and mother of two, in a leopard-print minidress so short it revealed her underwear.
Two days later, Spears was photographed getting out of a car in a hiked-up miniskirt. This time, her underwear was nowhere to be found.
According to celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, Spears' up-skirt shots are no mistake -- they're a classic cry for attention.
"She wants the picture taken. She wants the publicity. She wants people talking about her," Hilton said of Spears. "That's what people love to see more than anything. Why do you think celebrity sex tapes sell so well?"
The photos, which spread virally across the Internet, gained Spears entry to a club ruled by repeat flashers Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Cameras have caught Lohan panty-less four times over the last two months.
"You'd think she'd either wear pants or panties, or be more careful about how she exits a car," blogger Hilton said. "Four times. That's no accident. That's deliberate."
The rash of celebrities flashing their nether regions worries Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute of etiquette and manners.
"My concern is the impressionability of young people," he said. "I think that some young people are going to say, 'Wow, if Britney Spears and Paris Hilton can do that, I wonder if I can do that.'"
Post points out that even if celebrity flashers are putting themselves in compromising situations on purpose, it's troubling that they have to bare so much to get a little media attention.
"What's scary is that we're having to go a little bit further and be a little more outrageous in order to be talked about," he said.
And from here, said Hilton, there's nowhere to go but downhill.
"I think we're going to start seeing celebrities puking or urinating or doing really crazy outlandish things to try to top each other. I would like to see that," he said, explaining that his blog's traffic would go through the roof.
Despite the prospect of celebrities competing to see who can reveal the most skin -- or worse, if Hilton's prediction is correct -- modesty is by no means a lost cause in Hollywood or in the general society.
"I think some people are still modest and respectful. There's a reason we've never seen Jessica Simpson's bits and pieces," Hilton said. "Amanda Bynes, Scarlett Johansson. There are girls who keep their private lives private and their private parts private," he said.
Post cited the 1960s and '70s bra-burning movement as an example of society pushing the envelope and ultimately deciding to push back, embracing modesty over the alternative.
"Bras went out for a while 30 years ago, but you don't see that now. There's a case of testing a line and deciding that maybe we don't want to go that far," he said.
For miniskirted starlets, Post offered tips on exiting a car with grace.
"As you get out, keep your legs together rather than apart. If you have a sweater, a scarf, a shawl or a coat, lay it across your legs as you get out," he said.
Whether Spears follows his advice or not, Post doesn't think she or her panty-less friends will be the death of modesty.
"There will always be celebrities who are pushing the envelope, but I think we'll still value a sense of modesty in the future," he said. "I doubt if we're going to be seeing women walking around without tops or bottoms on at all."