Wearing the U.S. flag: Acceptable or not?

MARTINEZ (KTVU) -- Patriotism is on full display throughout the Bay Area this Labor Day weekend with American flags flying at homes and displayed in various places. It’s also not unusual to see people wearing the stars and stripes.

But what is the protocol for wearing clothing that features the U.S. flag? 

Colin Kaepernick’s sitting protest of the National Anthem and businesses that use the American flag to boost sales is getting new scrutiny as Americans debate what is appropriate when it comes to honoring the flag.

U.S. Army and Marine veteran Ellison Lockett said she does not have a problem with clothing adorned with flags.

"As long as you're showing patriotism, you should show your flag any way you want to,” Lockett said.

However, Lockett’s neighbor, Navy veteran John Pedersen, said he does find it to be disrespectful for those who wear clothing draped with the American flag.

"When they have it as a hat or a sweat band or a shirt, I find it very disrespectful,” he said. “The flag is not a garment. It's something to respect."

The U.S Flag Code has two parts that address wearing the American flag.

  • (d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.
  • (j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.

Lockett said he believes if the garment is not made of a real flag with 50 stars and 13 stripes, it is okay to wear as clothing. Pedersen disagrees, saying there is more to the flag code.

  • The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

A small lapel pin is incapable of displaying 50 stars and 13 stripes. On social media, the debate has stirred varying opinions.

Most responses side with wearing the flag print as being “patriotic.” There were a few who found it disrespectful or “tacky,” but others favor a different approach:  which is against any flag print that can be discarded.

Pedersen said he dislikes seeing flag print napkins and paper products.

"That's bad, wiping your mouth on the flag," he said.

At Pleasant Hill’s VFW, Navy veteran Bob Newell said he has mixed feeling on flag apparel.

"I know a lot of veterans (who) have tattoos of the flag on them," he said. "Is that good or bad? I don't know.” 

Newell said his only hope is for people to act respectfully while wearing the flag. "As long as they realize what it means, that's what I'm concerned about,” he said.

Pedersen said it’s his opinion that old or worn flag clothing should be ceremoniously burned, but the VFW in Oakland said it does not consider the shirt to be the American flag, and that tossing it in a garbage bin is acceptable.