Is It Offensive To Wear American Flag Apparel? It Depends Who You Ask

by Casey Suglia

The Fourth of July is just around the corner (seriously, where did this year go?) which means it is time for everyone's favorite (and perhaps only) July holiday. From the massive firework displays to the barbecues to even the red, white, and blue-themed clothing people like to don on the holiday, there are plenty of ways to express yourself and let others know you're "Proud to be an American." Then again, what about that clothing? Is it offensive to wear American flag apparel, or should you keep rocking that patriotic tee like it's your business?

It depends on who you're asking, really. There are multiple websites, blogs, and forums out there that debate this hotly talked about issue. While those who wear it and purchase it might wear it with a sense of pride, others take offense to the way the flag is handled. According to, a website dedicated to educating and informing the public about American flag, there is a flag code — in other words, specific instructions as to how the flag should and shouldn't be treated.

Among these instructions is a strict notice that the flag should not be part of a "costume or athletic uniform" and should not be used as an "advertising purpose" or sewn to anything with the intention of discarding it later. Therefore, an American flag printed dress purchased at Forever 21 or American Apparel would be, according to some, breaking flag code. (Too bad, because look how cute!)

Wearing apparel printed with the American flag can be seen as offensive who take the flag very seriously, as it turns out. But this written flag code, which is not enforced by the government, does not stop stores such as Target or Old Navy from selling items with the American flag on them.

According to Troy Patterson at Slate, "The flag represents a living country and is itself considered to be a living thing." So while your t-shirt with a flag printed on it isn't the same as wearing the actual flag, you're also considered to be representing your country by wearing the flag. Therefore, if someone's flag apparel is worn in an disrespectful manner or someone is conducting some shady behavior while wearing an American flag — it can definitely be seen as offensive.

However, according to the American Legion, unless you're wearing the actual flag as a dress (circa the Anything But Clothes parties that people attend in college), wearing clothes printed with the American flag is not breaking any rule or etiquette code whatsoever:

People are simply expressing their patriotism and love of the country by wearing an article that happens to be red, white, and blue with stars and stripes. There is nothing illegal about wearing or the use of these items.

Wearing American flag printed clothing is definitely not illegal or breaking any rules, but depending on who you might come across, it could still be seen as offensive. Therefore, it is important to consider who might be attending Fourth of July festivities with you and dress accordingly. While it is probably okay to wear an American flag shirt at a barbecue with your friends, it might not go over so well while enjoying the fireworks with your grandparents, who just so happen to be flag trivia buffs.

This coming Fourth of July, the most important of figuring out whether to don the flag on your clothing is to gauge what your intentions are. The flag represents an important part of our country and history and should be treated respectfully — but that doesn't mean you can't have a little fun now and then.