According to the US Army, fringe 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. Originally, fringe was used to create a static charge that actually helped keep the flag clean.
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.
USC Title 4 Chapter 1 – governs the flag. There is nothing that says that a civilian or civilian organization may not fly a flag with a gold fringe. THis does not include veteran organizations whose members are required to follow Army or Marine Corps guidance. Click here for the text of Executive Order 10834 (1959) on the make up of the American flag.
“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 that is so, then someone had better tell the Joint Service Color Guard pictured at the top of this post. 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, it is attached to clips on a halyard and raised outside on a flagpole. 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.http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/faq.htm
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.
The Marine Corps Navy, and Coast Guard do not carry an American flag with fringe. MCO P10520.3, 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.
What about the cord and tassels?
Army and Air Force – the 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. The colors of the cord and tassel for the unfringed US flag are red, white, and blue.