The Proper Standard: No Flags on Clothing, Please

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Hunter and Ross Simmons

By Hunter and Ross Simmons

While there is no greater symbol of freedom world-wide than “Old Glory,” the authors believe that its patriotic display is only mildly more inconvenient, but far more reverent and appropriate, if done compliant with federal law and consistent with the Rules of Flag Etiquette.

No Flags on Clothing, Please

Flag Code Section 8’s concept of “respect” for the flag of the United State of America can, at first glance, seem patent and trivial. There are certainly those who would imagine that any and all demonstrative uses of our national emblem are invariably “patriotic,” simply in their own right. We are of the view, though, that idle exhibitions of patriotism are little more than a tribute to the exhibitor, a self-pat on one’s back as it were, whereas “respect” speaks in terms of the flag itself. American Heritage (4th) defines “respect” as “to feel or show deferential regard for; esteem.” This is to say, one does not automatically “respect” the flag by its use; to the contrary, we suggest that one shows the opposite by its misuse.

Except for patches on certain uniforms (which we address in a separate column), please do not wear clothing of any kind embossed with the American flag. Please. “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. Section 8(d). “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 8(i).

No flags or flag designs as clothing? This may, at first blush, appear Draconian. But reiterating, one mustn’t confuse pretense with reverence. The first is of no moment within the body of flag etiquette, whereas the latter is at its very heart.

From prior posts, one knows that “no disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America.” Flag Code, Section 8. When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning. Flag Code, Section 8(k). The Flag Code’s lesson: thinking the image of the flag is any less deserving of respect than the flag itself is to miss the mark entirely. To think the emblem of our country might be relegated merely to an idle “design” akin to any beer company or tourist destination, to be thoughtlessly soiled and trivialized as any other article of clothing, shoved in the hamper, unceremoniously laundered, outgrown and over-worn and eventually, summarily relegated to the landfill when its use exhausted or fashions otherwise change—that is, to say the least, distressing.

Now you know. Still, you should also know that we do not look askance at those who do not follow our example, for it is that freedom itself that provokes the esteem we afford the United States, which the flag represents. If one chooses to wear clothing bearing flag prints and reproductions, one is free to do so, proving to all who care that he or she is patriotic; congratulations. In permitting personal choice to supplant the Flag Code, however, there should be no confusion that that is not respectful whatsoever of the flag of the United States of America.

Question: Look, for years I have bought the annual “flag shirt” sold in advance of Independence Day by a national retailer, and I am proud of the fact that I have eight different versions of it. Wearing this shirt is a proper display of the flag, right?

Answer: With all due respect, absolutely not. A shirt, even if arguably imbued with intangible value akin to a “trading card,” is designed for temporary use and discard, and hence it may not be printed with the image of a flag. Section 8(i). It is difficult to imagine any of us treating a shirt as the Flag Code requires we treat the flag of the United States of America, so this is as it should be. But we wish to be clear about another unfortunate issue raised by the “flag shirt” campaign. Your question amply illustrates that the effect of this sales strategy is to raise the value of the shirts (to induce their purchase) over the emblem itself which adorns them. Apart from diminishing the significance of the flag’s image, we are also of the opinion that promotion and sale of this “series” of garments is a regrettable, misguided marketing ploy, and “the flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.” Section 8(i).

 Authors Ross Simmons and his son, Hunter, are life members of the National Eagle Scout Association, and Ross is Scoutmaster at Imperial’s Troop 4070. Have a question of Flag Etiquette? Please submit your questions or photos to submit@properstandard.com. (By submitting, you’re licensing content for use.)