How to Display the Flag

Show patriotism by displaying the American flag this 4th of July. We have all the information you need to display flags, observe flag holidays, practice flag etiquette, and treat Old Glory with the respect she deserves.

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Flying the stars and stripes for the first time? Check out our list of dos and don'ts when learning how to display the American flag on a house, boat, or car. These tips from the Federal Flag Code—which serves as a guide for civilians and civilian groups—will help you show the proper respect for Old Glory. As with any sort of etiquette, compliance is voluntary but suggested.

For added convenience, we've also compiled a handy list of important flag dates to observe. While it's encouraged to display the flag every day, be sure to fly it high on important observation days. Some are obvious—like Memorial Day and the 4th of July—while others are a bit more obscure. 

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Displaying the Flag

  • Display the flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and outdoor stationary flagstaffs. The flag can be displayed 24 hours a day if the flag is illuminated during the hours of darkness.
  • Pay attention to the position of the union (the blue field). When projecting horizontally or at an angle from a windowsill or front of a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff, unless the flag is at half-staff. When displayed against a wall or in a window, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's right.
  • Occasionally, the flag is flown at half-staff by order of the President, customarily upon the death of prominent members of the government as a mark of respect to their memory. When flown at half-staff, the flag should be raised to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. Just before the flag is lowered for the day, the flag should once again be momentarily hoisted to the peak. To position the flag at half-staff, place the flag one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.
  • If you have a 48-star flag or another historic U.S. flag, you may display it with pride. The 50-star flag is the official flag of the U.S. as designated by President Eisenhower in 1959. There are many historic U.S. flags and, according to tradition, they may be displayed as long as they are in good condition. Historic U.S. flags should be treated with the same respect and rituals as the official flag.
  • You can place a symbolic finial on your flagstaff. Finials for flagstaffs are not mentioned in the Flag Code but, by implication, they are acceptable. The President, the Vice President, and many federal agencies use an eagle finial.
  • An indoor flag may have a fringe (a fringe on an outdoor flag would deteriorate too quickly).
  • To display the flag on a car, the staff should be attached to the chassis or the right fender.
  • Unless you have an all-weather flag (frequently made of nylon, polyester, or treated cotton), the flag should not be displayed during inclement weather.
  • Never display the flag with the union (blue field) down, except as a signal of extreme distress, as in danger to life or property.

Respecting the Flag

  • Do not place the flag over the hood, top, sides, or back of any vehicle, including a train or boat.
  • Neither the flag nor any part of the flag may be used as a costume or athletic uniform.
  • Never use the flag for apparel, bedding, or drapery.
  • Never use the flag as a covering for a ceiling.
  • No mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing can be placed on the flag or any part of the flag.
  • The flag must never be used for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • Never use the flag for advertising in any manner. Advertising signs should not be attached to the flag's staff or halyard (the rope used to hoist the flag).
  • No items that are intended for temporary use should be adorned with the flag. The flag should not be embroidered, printed, or embossed on cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything that will be discarded.

More Flag Etiquette

  • Dispose of a flag that is frayed, tattered, or otherwise inappropriate for display. The flag should be destroyed in a respectful manner, preferably by burning, according to U.S. Code, Title 36, Section 176k, Respect for Flag.
  • For other patriotic decoration, 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 in front of a platform, and decorating general interior or exterior spaces. Available as ornamental banners, in fans, and by the bolt, the bunting comes in traditional cotton, easy care cotton/poly, and convenient plastic.
  • On a float in a parade, the flag may only be displayed from a staff.
  • A flag patch may be attached only to the uniforms of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations.
  • Position a lapel flag pin on the left lapel, near the heart.
  • The flag should not be allowed to touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, floor, water, or merchandise.
  • Always carry our flag aloft and floating free, never flat or horizontally.
  • The flag must always fall free and must never be festooned, drawn back or up, or in folds.
  • Protect your flag—make sure that she is not displayed or stored in a way that would allow the flag to be torn, soiled, or otherwise damaged.

Important Flag Dates

It's appropriate to display the flag every day. However, it's particularly important to fly the flag on the following days:

  • New Year's Day, January 1
  • Inauguration Day, January 20
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day, third Monday in January
  • Lincoln's Birthday, February 12
  • Washington's Birthday, third Monday in February
  • Easter Sunday
  • Mother's Day, second Sunday in May
  • Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
  • Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), last Monday in May
  • Flag Day, June 14
  • Independence Day, July 4
  • Labor Day, first Monday in September
  • Constitution Day, September 17
  • Columbus Day, second Monday in October
  • Navy Day, October 27
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
  • Christmas Day, December 25
  • Any other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States; the birthdays of States; and on State holidays

Sources: CRS Report for Congress (Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress), The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions, John R. Luckey, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division, Updated June 14, 2000.

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