Odds are if you’ve ever purchased a flag online or at a store, it was probably 3 ft. by 5 ft. or 4 ft. by 6 ft. In fact, all of the flags in that store were probably that same size. What you may not know is that a flag’s actual aspect ratio (how long the flag is compared to how tall the flag is) varies greatly from country to country. Even most versions of the American flag are probably in the wrong aspect ratio.
A flag’s aspect ratio depends greatly on the country’s original ruler. British flags have a 1:2 ratio, Dutch and French Flags are generally a 2:3 ratio, and Germanic flags have a 3:5 ratio. While this is often true, it is far from a rule. America’s flag serves as a prime example. As a former colony of Britain, one would expect Old Glory to have a ratio of 1:2. However, it is officially a 10:19 aspect ratio.
There are a host of other notable flags that skew from the norm. Switzerland’s and Vatican City’s flags are completely square (1:1 ratio). Qatar’s flag has a ratio of 11:28, making it the only flag with a width more than twice its height. El Salvador has one of the most specific proportions with a ratio of 189:335. The most uniquely shaped country flag is Nepal, the only non-rectangular country flag and one of only a handful of country flags with an irrational aspect ratio, approximately 1.21901:1.Despite all of these differences, most flags end up leaning towards what is referred to as “the Golden Ratio,” a proportion that is scientifically pleasing to the eye. The “Golden Ratio” is technically defined where the ratio between two numbers is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. In short, the Golden Ratio is about 1.618. While a 3:5 ratio comes very close to the golden ratio, only the flag of Togo uses an exact golden ratio proportion.
With all of these specific ratios, one might ask why most versions of flags on the market are in improper ratios? The answer is simple: production costs. It is much cheaper to make all of your flags the same size. The only people who are vigilant of aspect ratios are governments and flag nerds (like me) who are generally more willing to pay a higher price to get a correct flag in a correct aspect ratio.