9 Rules About American Flags Most People Are Not Following

Whether you call it Ol’ Glory, the Stars and Bars, or a star-spangled banner, the American flag is one of our most important symbols. Yet, many Americans may not realize that the United States Code details the rules for displaying the flag. According to the Independence Hall Organization, here are nine common misconceptions that people may have about showing their colors.

1. American flag clothing

You may have picked up those red, white, and blue flip-flops for a low price, but did you know that wearing the flag is a no-no? Sure, you want to show your spirit and patriotism, but American flag tanks and shorts are probably not the best way. When an item of clothing bears an American flag then that item technically becomes a flag. Think about that when you spill mustard on your flag shorts.

This rule also applies to sports apparel and clothing. National teams may have an American flag adhered to their uniform.

2. Flying the flag in the dark

By dawn’s early light Frances Scott Key looked for the flag, but it’s not uncommon to see the flag flying in the dark in some neighborhoods. Flags should be removed before nightfall and carefully folded and stored. If you would like to keep your flag flying it should be illuminated. Homeowners may consider purchasing a small solar powered garden light to ensure that their flag is always bright.

3. Flying with style

While your pride in your country may not fade, sometimes the stars on your flag may lose their shine, or the flag itself may become ripped. Flags that are no longer in good shape should be removed and disposed of respectfully.

Did your flag touch the ground? You don’t necessarily have to dispose of the flag because cleaning it is an option.

Flags hung outside, like from balconies, should be done with the fifty stars on the left and the stripes running perpendicular to the ground. Flying a flag another way, such as upside down, is a sign of distress.

4. Who gets top billing?

It’s customary at municipal buildings to fly both the national and state flags; however, the American flag should always be flown higher. The only exception to this rule is when the other flags being displayed are from other countries. In that case, all the flags should be flown at the same height.

5. Pledging with your heart

Originally, the pledge was a child’s poem, but is now the standard manner in which we honor our flag. Children across the country say the Pledge of Allegiance each day. What you may not know is that those that say the pledge should remove their hats or other head gear, and cover their hearts.

6. Honoring heroes

Since the flag is one of our most inspiring symbols of patriotism, it has become customary to lower the flag in honor of fallen heroes. Yet, when is it appropriate to lower the flag to half-mast? And who decides when it is appropriate? According to Home of Heroes, the flag may be flown at half-mast on Memorial Day, Peace Officers Memorial Day, and to commemorate the death of a current or past president, vice president, or other government official.

7. Storing a folded flag

If you own a flag that you would like to preserve, then you should consider purchasing a triangle holding case. Families that have lost a loved one while serving our nation, or were honored for their past service receive a folded flag. Others may have a flag that had been flown over the Capital building and received it from their member of Congress.

How should these flags be displayed? Many craft stores sell wooden triangle flag holders that allow the flag to be displayed while keeping it safe.

8. Designs on a flag

It’s not unusual to see the American flag in colors other than the traditional red, white, and blue at rallies or protests. However, according to the U.S. Code, the flag should never have a word, design, or other marking on it. This also applies to flags on clothing or on items.

9. More than one purpose?

Using the flag as a curtain, to cover the ceiling, or as a way to carry items also violates the U.S. Code. People may be well-intentioned, but the flag can’t be used as a design element or for purposes other than a flag. You should always avoid using or displaying the flag in a manner that could cause it to be torn or damaged.