To Fringe or Not to Fringe, That is the Question

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Fringe on my flag? Why?

It is an honorable enrichment only, not an integral part of the flag. As it is attached on the edge, it does not “deface” the flag which therefore remains the Stars and Stripes of the US (as per the opinion of the US Attorney General in 1925). The fringe is used only inside or on a staff when carried outside by a bearer, it is never flown from a staff or pole outside (the fringe would fray). As there is no wind to move a flag when inside, the gold fringe adds an element of “prettiness”, nothing more. Most national flags have a fringe in some circumstances and no other country attributes any meaning to the fringe except that it looks better.

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. Many quote Executive Order 10834 (under President Eisenhower) however this is a public document available in full on the Internet (try the US Archives) and a review will show no mention of a fringe at all. US Army Orders (840-10) do make the use of the fringe obligatory inside, but these apply to the US Army only. The law that defines the flag and its use is USC Title 4 Chapter 1 – again a public document whose provisions are enforceable in a federal court. There is nothing that says that a civilian or civilian organization may not fly a flag with a gold fringe.

Click here for the text of Executive Order 10834 (1959) on the make up of the American flag.

“Fringe is for indoor flags only.”

Is that so? Then you’d better tell the Joint Service Color Guard pictured at the top of this post. That statement is partially correct, but it is not a complete statement. Did you know that statement only applies to flags flown outside on stationary poles or poles mounted on buildings? If a flag is mounted on a flagstaff that is to be carried and you are in a military color team, the flags better have fringe on them. That is the standard.

An “outside” flag has a header with grommets. This type of flag is not attached to a flagstaff to be carried by a color guard. An indoor/outdoor flag, has a pole hem. This hem is a sleeve that fits over the flagstaff. This is the type of flag that must have fringe for military color guards.

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 Internet contains many sites that claim that the fringe indicates martial law or that the Constitution does not apply in that area. These are entirely unfounded (usually citing Executive Order 10834 and inventing text that is not part of the order) and should be dismissed as urban legends. Others ascribe meanings of spiritual authority. Gold fringes on flags goes back long before the United States. Flags in ancient India had gold fringe, as did those in France, England, and throughout Europe. (Emphasis mine)

Why does the Marine Corps not have fringe on the American flag in their color teams?

All of the other services use fringe for their colors in a color team, but the Marine Corps does not carry an American flag with fringe. MCO P10520.3B, Flag Manual, 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.

Note: you may read that the Navy follows the Marine Corps by carrying an un-fringed American flag. Since the Navy relies on the Marine Corps for its drill and ceremonies, Marine Corps traditions apply to the Navy and Coast Guard.

The Army (AR 840-10 states all flags carried by Soldiers will have fringe) and Air Force (AFI 34-1201 states all flags carried by Airmen will have fringe) carry fringed colors, when fringed, the flags become “ceremonial colors”. The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard do not carry a fringed American flag, any other color carried by these services is always fringed.

What about the cord and tassels?

The gold tassel represents that the Flag has been honored with victory in battle or the flag has seen heroics in battle.

For those associated with the Army

A cord 8-foot 6-inch in length with a tassel at each end is attached at the center of the cord below the finial on the staff of the U.S. flag only when it is displayed with a flag also equipped with a cord and tassel. Only 4-foot, 4-inch by 5-foot, 6-inch positional colors and the color of the U.S. Corps of Cadets are authorized a cord and tassel. The colors of the cord and tassel for the US flag are red, white, and blue when displayed by the Army.

For those associated with the Marine Corps

Battle Streamers OR a scarlet and gold cord for the USMC fringed color. The colors of the cord and tassel for the unfringed US flag are red, white, and blue.

And here we have another What’s Wrong With This Picture entry:

Both colors do not have fringe and this is incorrect. Period.

Photos are from the DOD.

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