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wearing the american flag as clothing

wearing the american flag as clothing

wearing the american flag as clothing

Hello. Welcome to solsarin. This post is about “wearing the american flag as clothing“.

United States Flag Code

The United States Flag Code establishes advisory rules for display and care of the national flag of the United States of America. It is Chapter 5 of Title 4 of the United States Code (4 U.S.C. § 5 et seq). This is a U.S. federal law, but only suggests voluntary customs for handling of the American flag and was never intended to be enforceable.[1] The code uses non-binding language like “should” and “custom” throughout and does not prescribe any penalties for failure to follow the guidelines.[2]

Separately, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act of 1968 (amended in 1989) (18 U.S.C. § 700), a since struck-down criminal statute, which prohibits mutilating, defacing, defiling or burning the flag. Although it remains part of codified federal law, it is not enforceable due to the Supreme Court of the United States finding it unconstitutional in United States v. Eichman.[3]

Additionally, the public law which includes the Flag Code (Pub. L. 105–225), addresses conduct when the U.S. National Anthem is being played while the flag is present. That law suggests civilians in attendance should face the flag “at attention” (standing upright) with their hand over their heart.

What’s the Deal with American Flag Fashion?

Every year, right around this time, we find ourselves asking the same question: Why are we Americans so enamored, maybe even obsessed, with American flag clothing?

At this point you’ve probably seen a good number of people walking around with American flag T-shirts, shorts, and bathing suits. But you can also buy flag overalls, stilettos, and cowboy hats featuring the stars and stripes. (Maybe don’t wear all three at the same time.)

wearing the american flag as clothing
wearing the american flag as clothing

This fascination with all things red, white, and blue is of course most pronounced in the month between Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) and the Fourth of July, but if you pay attention you can observe it all year round. The flag is just a symbol made physical with fabric, yet it manages to both inspire and divide, particularly when it comes to clothing.

The tug-of-war between patriotism and nationalism

This year, tired of wondering why anyone would wear a flag like a cape, we decided to take a look at the history of flag clothing and the social and political implications that come along with it, including the tug-of-war between patriotism and nationalism.

Marc Leepson, the author of Flag: An American Biography, summed up our motivations when he observed that “there is something off-kilter about revering the ideals that our flag embodies, attempting to ban its destruction, then using it as a political club or sitting down in a flag-patterned lawn chair, tucking into red-white-and-blue-frosted cupcakes and dabbing our mouths with a Stars and Stripes napkin.”

A brief history of flag clothing

Rocking flag gear like shorts, swimsuits, and sunglasses is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s also one that’s woven into U.S. politics and business.

When the first versions of the flag were flown in the late eighteenth century, it was mostly for military purposes, reported Julissa Treviño in her brief history of American flag attire for Racked. And it wasn’t until after the Civil War that it became a more common item. By the late 1800s, new printing technology brought a wave of patriotic advertisements and goods for sale.

The flag began taking center stage at political rallies and appearing on items like beer bottles and soup cans. But it was not until the 1950s that it became popular to wear the flag (with the exception of on the Fourth of July), likely due to U.S. involvement in Korea and Vietnam, which people supported and protested by donning the stars and stripes.

Old Navy

More recently, designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have frequently made use of the flag to inspire their clothing lines, and Old Navy has made its annual Fourth of July flag shirt a summer staple. Following 9/11 a number of celebrities, including Madonna, wore the flag as a sign of support and solidarity. Today, apparel websites like Shinesty have devoted entire sections to flag-inspired clothing.

“From ski suits in the winter to swimsuits in the summer, we have a cataclysmic sensory overload of everything kick-ass and awesome about American Flag Clothing,” the website screams. “We’re talking fireworks going off during the middle of a Freebird solo with flocks of bald eagles mating as you eat a funnel cake covered in maple bacon by the handful.”

4 U.S. Code § 8 – Respect for flag

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.


The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.


The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.


The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
wearing the american flag as clothing
wearing the american flag as clothing


The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.


The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.


The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.


The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.


The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.


The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. 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. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.


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.


The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Is It Okay to Wear Clothes Showing the American Flag?

It’s not uncommon for clothes sold in the United States, as well as other countries, to feature the American flag. You can find t-shirts, sweaters, jackets, hoodies, pants and even shoes designed with images of the American flag. These patriotic clothes are particularly popular around Independence day, but they are sold and worn during all months of the year. Considering the wording used in the U.S. Flag Code, however, you might assume that it’s not acceptable to wear clothes showing the American flag.

What the US Flag Code Says About Wearing Clothes With the American Flag

The U.S. Flag Code, which contains legal requirements regarding the use, display, storage and retirement of the American flag, contains a section in which it discusses apparel. In this section, the legislation states that the American flag should never be worn as apparel, bedding or drapery. It also states that the American flag should never be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform.

Why It’s Okay to Wear Clothes Showing the American Flag

Based on this information, many people wrongfully believe that it’s not acceptable — or even illegal — to wear clothes showing the American flag. However, this isn’t the case. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear clothes showing the American flag as long as the clothes aren’t actually made of an American flag or part of an American flag.

wearing the american flag as clothing
wearing the american flag as clothing

I feel like I’ve heard conflicting information my whole life and being that I’m an etiquette instructor who teaches flag etiquette, I wanted to have good info to teach my students so I did some research and I think I’ve come to a conclusion. Here’s my take on it:

The US Flag Code states “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”

I take that to mean THE FLAG should never be used as clothing. Meaning don’t wear an actual flag around your shoulders or tied around your body. I tend to think that clothes with a flag printed on them or clothes with red, white, and blue patterns are fine to wear.

Thank you for staying with this post “wearing the american flag as clothing” until the end.

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