American Flag Clothing Rules

Posted by Alan Esquivel on

How to Wear the Flag and What to Avoid

From American flag clothing to bumper stickers, from flag poles to bunting, we Americans love “Old Glory” and we love to show our love by displaying her everywhere. There’s no doubt we are a patriotic bunch and we proudly wave our stars and stripes wherever we gather to celebrate or to pay respect.

While many of us show our patriotism by wearing American flag clothing, did you know there is a code of etiquette surrounding the proper display of the U.S. flag? There is a set of rules in place to specify how the flag should be displayed in various circumstances. The Flag Code was first published on June 14, 1923 and it is a set of rules for civilian flag use.

The U.S. Flag Code

Seventy-six years ago, in June 1942, the U.S. Code, the official document that contains all the federal laws of the United States of America, added the Flag Code to its files. The Flag Code describes how the American flag should be designed, how it should be displayed, how it should be destroyed, what is deemed disrespectful, and the official rules for proper conduct during flag ceremonies, to name just a few among the activities outlined that are related to the flag and its display.

Disrespecting and desecrating the flag was once considered a federal crime, but in 1989, the Supreme Court upheld a Texas Court of Criminal appeals finding that it was unconstitutional to make it a crime desecrate or otherwise mistreat the flag. In 1990, Congress rejected a Constitutional Amendment that gave Congress and the States the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the U.S. flag.   

What does all this have to do with wearing your favorite American flag shirt? It means that while the federal government agrees the American flag should be honored and respected as a national symbol, it also recognizes that wearing American flag clothing is a form of protected free speech and the Constitutional rights of the wearer may not be superseded by the flag.

What is American Flag Etiquette?

The Flag Code makes a couple mentions of wearing the flag on our clothing. The specific sections of the code relating to apparel are excerpted as follows:

Section 8d: “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”

Section 8i: “It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins, or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”

Section 8j: “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 Code continues: “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.”

Fortunately for us, there is no flag police. Since the Flag Code is not enforced, and it’s not even enforceable, we can use our own discretion when it comes to wearing American flag clothing.

The Flag Code alludes to this in its Frequently Asked Questions Section. It states in part, “The evident purpose of these restraints is to limit the commercial or common usage of the flag, and thus, maintain its dignity.” Also stated in this section, “While wearing the colors may be in poor taste and offensive to many, it is important to remember that the Flag Code is intended as a guide to be followed on a purely volunteer basis to ensure proper respect for the flag.”

The Flag Code also states that any rule or custom regarding the display of the flag can be modified or repealed by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States whenever he or she so desires.

And, interestingly enough, the American Legion chimed in on flag clothes by saying unless clothing is made from an actual United States flag, there is no breach of flag etiquette whatsoever. They further state that people are expressing their patriotism by wearing patriotic clothing.

It seems pretty straight forward, then, that as long as you’re not being respectful, your American flag shirt probably won’t be, either!

How You Can Wear American Flag Clothing

So, what does all this mean when it comes to wearing the flag? Simply put, it is not illegal or immoral to wear any clothing with the American flag on it. It may be frowned upon to wear a flag on your person, but for the most part, your love of country will supplant any offence taken.

And, while some Americans may be offended by your patriotic donning of the flag on your person, most these days won’t think a thing of it. After all, it’s a fairly sound guess that our Founding Fathers would be perplexed over flag rules and laws. After all, they were trying to stitch together an independent republic in the middle of a long and difficult revolution. It’s safe to say they weren’t interested in apparel or flags. They were, however, interested in liberty. And the liberty to choose your apparel is about as basic as it gets.

A few quick reminders:

  • Mind your manners while you’re wearing an image of the flag. Your attitude and your actions represent your country when you’re wearing the flag. For instance: Remove your flag hat and place it over your flag t-shirt right where your heart is when the National Anthem is playing.
  • Don’t ever cut up or otherwise desecrate a flag to attach to your clothing. Or anything else for that matter.
  • Consider your audience when wearing your flag clothing. America’s older generation might not appreciate your patriotic attire as much as you, so be respectful.
  • Be careful not to cheapen or tarnish the flag, so be mindful of where the flag is on your body and try to be respectful of it.
  • Don’t wear the flag as a costume.

Always remember that the Flag Code was created as a guideline, intended to be followed voluntarily by civilians. If you’re moved to show your love of country with a flag on your hat or t-shirt or jacket, hit up your favorite patriotic clothing site and pick up your favorite flag clothes!

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