Whether in an office, at a parade, in a government building, or any number of places, our American readers have probably seen an American or state flag with gold fringe or tassels. If you’ve read our website, you know that almost every element of a flag has a meaning and history behind it. So what’s the meaning behind the gold fringe? Well, not a whole lot.
The only mention of fringe in any law or code is U.S. Army Regulation 840-10 that states that fringe should be used on indoor and ceremonial flags, but does not state any reason why. According to the American Legion, the earliest record of fringe on a flag was in 1835. By 1895, fringe was added to all military regiment flags as an “honorable enrichment” (you can see all the different designs and their fringes in the regulation 840-10 document).
No U.S. flag law or codes state the purpose of the gold fringe in either a military or non-military setting. However, the fringe is mostly considered acceptable flag etiquette for any formal setting. I say “mostly” because if you search the depths of the internet you will find all sorts of conspiracy theories behind the fringe on flags. Yes, you read that correctly.
The most prominent is that the fringe indicates martial or admiralty law – basically that the constitution does not apply in the area that the flag is in. Theorists then say that whoever is the authority figure in this area has absolute rule. Those who subscribe to this theory find this most troubling in courtrooms, and claim that this means judges have complete say over your fate.
As I said before, there is no law or flag code that supports this. Those who subscribe to this theory will often point to text they claim comes from executive order 10834 or Title 4, Chapter 1 of the U.S. Code. The text that they cite is completely fabricated. Neither document mentions fringe or a “martial law flag” of any sort.
So in conclusion, it’s a traditional military decoration that has made it was into non-military use. Do you feel like you have substantial evidence to support a theory behind the fringe? Tell us in the comments!
Editors note (Feb. 25, 2022): The original version of this article published on March 26, 2016 contained a link to a website promoting the false theory that gold fringe on a flag indicates martial or admiralty law. We have chosen to remove the link due to the fact that the website also promotes other false theories that are dangerous and hateful. We have also updated the language and sources provided in this article to more accurately address how the false claims by those who support the theory have evolved since the original publishing date.