To Fringe or Not to Fringe, That is the Question

DrillMasterAsk DrillMaster, Commentary, Drill Teams, Honor Guard, Instructional 7 Comments

I originally wrote this in December of 2017. This update, December of 2023, includes links to other articles to help fully explain the issues.

Please read about the difference between a flag and a color.

According to the US Army, fringe is an honorable enrichment only, not an integral part of the color. As it is attached on the edge, it does not “deface” the color which therefore remains the Stars and Stripes of the US. Originally, fringe was used to create a static charge that actually helped keep the flag clean.

See also: All About The Flag. and especially, Flag, Fringe and Finial Theory.

EO 10834

There are many posts that posit the theory that the fringe represents martial or admiralty law. However there is no law, decree, order or other legally enforceable proclamation that mentions the fringe, either to prescribe or proscribe its use. Some quote Executive Order 10834 (under President Eisenhower) however this is a public document available in full on the Internet and a review will show no mention of a fringe. Click here for the text of Executive Order 10834 (1959) on the make up of the American flag.

Title 4, United States Code, Chapter 1

This is what we call the Flag Code. This section of the US Code governs the flag. There is nothing that says that a civilian or civilian organization may not display a flag with a gold fringe. This does not include veteran organizations whose members are required to follow Army or Marine Corps guidance.

Indoor/Outdoor vs. Outside

Both colors do not have fringe, this is incorrect for the USAF.

“Fringe is for indoor flags only.” That is a reply I received from an Air Force Base Honor Guard member years ago who received bad training. If what she wrote to me is so, then someone had better tell the Joint Service Color Guard pictured at the top of this post. When a color is mounted on a flagstaff that is to be carried and you are in a military color team, for the Army, Air Force, and Space Force, all the colors better have fringe on them. That is the standard. The same goes for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard, except they forbid fringe on the US.

An indoor/outdoor flag, has a staff sleeve (pole hem) and is called a color. This hem is a sleeve that fits over the flagstaff. This is the type of color that must have fringe for military color guards.

An outside flag” (my term) has a header with grommets. This type of flag (not a color) is not attached to a flagstaff to be carried by a color guard, it is attached to clips on a halyard and raised outside on a flagpole.

Service Standards

Gold fringe can be found on ceremonial flags used indoors and for outdoor ceremonies. The fringe is considered completely within the guidelines of proper flag etiquette. There is nothing in the Flag Code about the fringe being for federal government flags only.

The Army (AR 840-10 states all flags carried by Soldiers will have gold-colored fringe) and Air Force (AFI 34-1201 states all flags carried by Airmen will have gold-colored fringe) carry fringed colors. This also applies to the Space Force. The Space Force departmental, organizational, and general officer flags must have silver-colored fringe. This is mandatory and you must request it from the flag company (go to

The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard do not carry an American flag with fringe. MCO 4400.201 Vol 13, states, “The use of fringe on national colors or standards within the Marine Corps is prohibited.” This is because the Flag Code states that nothing will be attached to the American flag.

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard departmental and organizational flags must have gold-colored fringe.

The Navy Infantry Battalion Color does not receive fringe even though it is displayed on a flagstaff and carried in a color guard. This flag is not flown on a mast.

What about the cord and tassels?

The gold cord and tassels is not authorized on any flag displayed in the US military.

Army and Air Force – Any cord and tassels is not authorized on any color guard flag.

Marine Corps – Battle Streamers OR a scarlet and gold cord for the USMC fringed color.

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard – The colors of the cord and tassel for the national color are red, white, and blue.

Comments 7

  1. I am looking to create a joint flag display for an official USMC post. I am settled on the flags, staffs, bases, and finials, but I cannot solve the puzzle of the cords and tassels. I must be able to display every service individually and jointly in a correct manner. I have red, white, and blue, and scarlet and red cords. What should I have for the other services, and how should I display them jointly, concerning the cords?

    P.S. My Protocol officer says that it is not a big deal and to use gold tassels and cords for all, but I feel uncomfortable with this.

    My guess:
    USA/USN/USAF/USSF/USCG: remove the cords for individual and joint ceremonies.

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      Hello sir,

      Joint service order is US, USA, USMC, USN, USAF, USSF, and USCG. I have three articles on the order, if you need more information.

      Your protocol officer is part of the problem. Gold-colored cords and tassels are not authorized on any US military colors, ever.

      FYI, the light ash or oak wood guidon staffs with silver-colored hardware and spade finials are the only authorized staffs and finials for all jointly displayed military colors. Flag spreaders are not authorized.

      I wish you the best.

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