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Wearing the U.S. Flag

flag lapel pinRecently a network news anchor disclosed being made uncomfortable by the millions of Americans who chose to wear flag lapel pins after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Because the anchor’s statement is beyond comprehension and beneath contempt, I’ll save my comments for another day. But it does serve as a jumping off point for a discussion about wearing the flag.

Wearing the flag as a lapel pin is in fact, one of the few ways to “wear the flag” that is permitted by the U.S. Flag Code. Many people want to wear the flag in some form, as an unmistakable sign of their love and affection for their country and the flag. However, the flag code is quite specific regarding the display of the flag, and especially the wearing of the flag.

The flag transcends clothing

The flag of the United States of America transcends mere clothing. Not only should the flag itself never be used as an article of clothing, but the image of the flag should never be reproduced on clothing. It should never be printed on anything ephemeral.

Our nation’s greatest sorrow is to lay the flag across the coffins of our veterans and others who have given their lives for our safety. It is also the greatest honor we bestow upon them. What does this honor mean if we dishonor the flag by printing it on paper napkins, t-shirts, or wearing the flag as a cape?

So who gets to wear the flag?

Flag Patch


 Section 8(j) of the flag code says: “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.”

To summarize, the flag, in the form of a patch, may be worn by those in uniform, and members of patriotic organizations. Here is my simple rule for “wearing the flag.”

If, when you die, someone from city, state, federal government, or patriotic organization gives your family a flag to lay over your coffin, then you get to wear a flag patch while you are alive.

For the rest of us, we can wear it as a pin, over the heart.

All of the photographs shown below are violations of the U.S. Flag Code.

Kid Rock wearing the flag as a poncho
Stars and Stripes on a bikini

flag on lady’s topflag on pillow
shirt in Stars and Stripes
flag as a drawstring bag
flag on paper plates

7 thoughts on “Wearing the U.S. Flag

  1. […] about at Wearing the U.S. Flag – flags bay, – Last Updated – 8 minutes ago    Follow This Story   Change Your […]

  2. “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform”
    “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing”

    While some people might think differently, I agree 100%.
    To me the flag “is” my country and as so it should be respected.
    It is a shame most people choose to wear the flag in not appropriate ways.

    A flag lapel pin is just the right way to show you love your country.

  3. […] An editorial I read yesterday left me seeing red, plus stars and stripes. It was another slam against wearing flag pins. This attitude distresses me, because wearing the flag as a pin is the only —sanctioned, let’s call it—method for ordinary civilians to wear the flag, as opposed to all the unsanctioned ways in which people wear the flag (but is only occasionally remarked upon). […]

  4. i have noticed servicemen wearing an American flag patch on their shoulder but many appear to be upside down. is there a reason for this in the armed services?

    1. Bill, I have not noticed any upside-down flag patches. Many of our military personnel are wearing flag patches on the right shoulder of their uniforms, with the flag in what is called the “reverse” position, instead of the more commonly seen “obverse” (or from the front) position. Both the obverse and reverse side of the American flag are equally acceptable and honorable. The reason for the reverse position is to show that the flag is going forward into battle, on the arm of the soldier.

      Thank you for writing, and Best Wishes, Deborah

  5. I was wondering, when it states that the flag should not be reproduced onto clothing, does that count for the flag t-shirts from Old Navy. I would guess yes because even though the design changes every year, there is still a full flag image on the front of those t-shirts and tank tops.

    1. Based on the wording of this portion of the flag code, I believe it is a breach of etiquette to wear clothing with the image of the flag printed on it, such as an Old Navy tee. This is different from a flag patch, or a flag pin, and the text itself makes this distinction. The flag is more than mere textile, and it deserves a higher level of respect.

      Alyssa, thank you so much for writing.
      Best wishes,
      Deborah Hendrick

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