Uniforms and Flag Patches: The Basics

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There are certain kinds of uniforms that include flag patches or details. Displaying the U.S. flag on a uniform is fairly common for fire departments, police departments and, of course, the U.S. military. But note that flag patches and decals are not usually attached to uniforms in random fashion.

Title IV of the United States Code is known as the U.S. Flag Code. This code is an advisory code that establishes rules for how the flag can and should be displayed. There are penalties for not displaying the flag properly, but a 1990 Supreme Court ruling effectively rendered enforcement impossible.

Having said that, following the U.S. Flag Code is still a very good idea. It’s also very important to many people who served in the military to protect the ideals encapsulated in the flag. That’s why most uniform makers practice due diligence to the Flag Code.

On Military and First Responder Uniforms

Most cases of flag patches and decals on uniforms are reserved to first responder uniforms, explains uniform rental pioneer Alsco. These are uniforms worn by police officers, firefighters, and so forth. The same rules apply to these uniforms as to military uniforms.

The U.S. flag code states that flag patches and decals should be positioned in such a way as to guarantee the field of stars is closest to the heart. Knowing that, consider the flag as a 2D image with the field of stars to the left. This is the standard way we view the U.S. flag. For the purposes of this discussion, we will call it the ‘left’ flag.

More often than not, flag patches or decals appearing on the breast of a jacket or shirt appear on the left breast. That’s because this puts the field of stars closest to the heart without requiring the use of a reverse (or ‘right’) flag as would be required if the patch or decal were attached to the right breast.

The second thing to note is that the flag is never to be displayed in a position that makes it look like it is in retreat. Simply put, that means the field of stars should always be placed facing forward. On the left sleeve of a uniform, that would require using the left flag. The rule requires using a right flag on the right sleeve.

On Sports Team Uniforms

The U.S. flag code specifically states that “no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.” This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, it does. We have all seen instances in the past where teams have affixed flag patches to uniform jerseys. But again, the U.S. flag code is not enforceable according to the Supreme Court.

The more curious question here has nothing to do with flag patches and decals, but to the use of the Stars & Stripes itself. The Stars & Stripes is often used as a basis for designing clothing completely separate from any thought of a patch or decal.

Is it okay to create a baseball jersey that looks like a flag? According to the U.S. flag code, no. Even if the jersey is not a flag in and of itself, it uses parts of the flag in displaying a field of stars and the accompanying field of red and white stripes.

Now you know a little bit more about uniforms and how they display flag patches and decals. What do you think? Should uniform manufacturers adhere to the U.S. flag code, or do you think it makes very little difference in the end?