There are many reasons why we might wear flags on our clothes and gear when we don’t belong to the military.

Perhaps you’re aiming for realism in combat sports, maybe you’re traveling abroad, or simply a patriotic individual proudly displaying your colors.

But can civilians wear American flag patches?

Is it frowned upon by genuine military personnel? Does it cause offense to combat vets? What is the tactical etiquette for displaying such insignia in this country?

Let’s find out.

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Can Civilians Wear Flag Patches – The Short Version

Although it’s an interesting topic with a lot of depth, the answer can be given right off the bat:

Yes, civilians can wear flag patches. There are currently no restrictions for anyone who wants to wear their country’s flag somewhere on their person.

But as this article is geared towards the US flag, I would still encourage looking at the local flag code in your country, before proceeding – if there even is one.

(There is no such code in the United Kingdom, for example, so you can be free to do whatever you like if you live there.)

In the US, the wearing of the flag displays great respect, as it shows support for the troops, as well as a passion for the country as a whole.

American flag patch on soldiers shoulder

However, the water becomes a bit muddier when you’re talking about military insignia, such as the badge of a specific platoon or regiment.

In addition, the flag should be displayed correctly, and the distinctive red, white, and blue of the US banner comes with a set of rules that should be adhered to.

For more on that, and some intriguing, entertaining information on this subject in general, stay with us and keep reading.

Why We Wear Flag Patches

No matter the country, many of its citizens will be proud to call that place home.

And they show it by flying flags, singing songs, supporting national teams, and wearing patriotic clothing and gear.

We wear flag patches as part of this show of pride, and there can be many additional reasons for this:

  • Wearing clothing associated with a family member who served.
  • Military reenactments and cosplay.
  • Patches for travelers – they look great on one of these awesome tactical backpacks.
  • Realism in combat sports.
  • As a fashion statement/it looks cool.
  • No reason is required.

Some US travelers sew Canadian flags on their gear in order to avoid hostility in certain parts of the world.

Not everyone appreciates or agrees with patriotism, but to each, their own.

Either way, if you are patriotic, and you want to wear a patch of the US flag – you can. But there are still some rules to follow – so keep reading to find out how you can get it right.

How to Wear the American Flag Shoulder Patch

While the wearing of the US flag is allowed by anyone who wants to, it comes with a few caveats for doing it correctly, without causing offense.

This is known as the US Flag Code. It’s a lengthy document, and rather than write it all down here, you can follow that link to get the gist.

You’re (probably) not going to be thrown in jail should you fail to observe these guidelines, but you might get a few frowns or some negative comments thrown your way – depending on where you are, of course.

Having said that, you must always show respect to the US flag (in the US, at least) and anything that can be construed as disrespectful might well land you in hot water.

For patches, they should be worn in a similar fashion to the military. This is commonly on the upper section of the right sleeve, or above the left breast.

If you’re wearing multiple patches, the US flag should be at the top, to show your true allegiance. Of course, if you’re not from the US, then you can arrange them how you like (providing it’s respectful).

You are not to deface the flag in any way, so you shouldn’t write over it with a marker or cover it with another patch or flag.

Patches should also be positioned in such a way that they don’t come into contact with the floor, so keep them off the bottom of tactical bags, for example.

This article on the best tactical brands can help you find some great gear and apparel on which to wear a US flag patch.

And the video below offers a bite-sized history lesson on the origins of the US flag, which you might find interesting.

Can Civilians Wear a Reverse Flag Patch?

Traditionally, the “Union” part of the US flag (the blue segment and the stars – often called the “canton”), is displayed closest to the flagpole, so the red and white stripes flow free. (More on this, below).

When the flag was raised in battle, the canton – next to the pole –  would appear to lead, while the stripes would wave behind.

As such, a patch of the US flag will change depending on which sleeve it is displayed on, and should be displayed as always moving forward in keeping with this tradition.

A patch on the right sleeve (where it’s most commonly worn), will display the flag “reversed” so the blue of the canton is in the upper right quadrant.


airsofter in camouflage with tactical binoculars spotting field

A patch on the left sleeve will display the flag as you more commonly might see it – with the blue and the stars in the upper left. You’ll find this flag on the front of a uniform, above the left breast, for example.

Therefore, just as the military wears it in such a manner, civilians are allowed to wear this “reverse” flag patch. If the US flag looks like it’s moving forward – you’re good to go.

There are also some fascinating rules when it comes to flying the American flag, and you can check them out if you follow that link.

Where to Wear the US Flag

Provided you’re obeying the US flag code, and you’re not showing any disrespect to the star-spangled-banner, you can pretty much wear the patch on any item of clothing you like.

A popular location is on the sleeve of one of these tactical jackets. Even if you’re not involved with combat sports or the military, they can look really cool when you’re camping, hunting, and hiking.

Or just taking the dog for a walk, with a Stars and Stripes doggy bandana.

Airsofters sometimes put a flag patch or sticker on the side of a tactical helmet – and they are often designed to have a dedicated place for it, so check out that link to find out.

Another location that a flag patch can look attractive is on the side of a tactical messenger bag, or tactical duffel.

The beauty of these items is that they frequently come with the MOLLE system built-in (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment), and they will have Velcro swathes which are perfect for sticking a flag patch to.

Let me know in the comments where you wear your US flag.

Military Insignia

Now, this is the actual hot topic – particularly among the airsoft community.

It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between airsofters and military personnel. There are plenty of folks out there asking why on feeds like Reddit, for example.

But for the most part, airsofters have the greatest of respect for the military – which is why they go to the lengths they do to emulate it.

Without…y’know…the dying, the maiming, and the PTSD trauma.

And there are high numbers of the former military who love playing airsoft, as it’s a chance to flex their training muscles once more and blow off some steam, without actually blowing someone’s head off.

So where does the beef come from?

The issue arises when combat sports players wear badges and insignia from a genuine military unit, regiment, or platoon – that they don’t belong to, and/or never have belonged to.


airsoft military game players in camouflage uniform

And the military guys have a point – if you’ve not earned the right to wear that, why are you even attempting it?

This is where you have to be very careful not to tread on toes, and while it isn’t currently illegal to wear a military patch, it can be considered as stolen valor, and you might attract hostile, unwanted attention as a result.

Here’s an interesting side note on the Stolen Valor Act of 2013:

Any person who claims to have received military commendations or medals in order to obtain monetary benefit is committing a felony and will be charged accordingly.

So, there you have it. You are allowed to wear military insignia but get caught trying to fiddle the system as a fake vet, and you’ll be in deep shit.

Some airsofters like to wear the insignia of a deceased family member who served, or out of respect for brothers and sisters currently in arms – both of which are perfectly accessible.

But I would advise caution wearing a badge that you have no affiliation with whatsoever.

If you have to wear a realistic military patch, why not make one up? It will look just as good, and you’ll avoid offending fellow players, and putting anyone’s nose out of joint.

Having said all that, most genuine military guys actually couldn’t care less. Wear what you want to – so long as it doesn’t disrespect the colors in the first place.


Why is the American flag sometimes backward?

The US flag sometimes appears reversed on the sleeves or shoulders of military and law enforcement. Check to see which side the flag is on – it’s going to be the right arm, right?!

This is because that is how the flag would traditionally be viewed from the right side when lofted high and going into battle. The blue canton and stars would be closest to the pole, in the upper right corner.

Flags on the left sleeve will be displayed as you’re more familiar.

What does an all-black American flag mean?

This is an interesting question. Contrary to popular belief, they didn’t originate in the US Civil War.

Black flags were originally flown by pirates as a statement for “no quarter given,” or “take no prisoners.”

Monochromatic US flags started appearing in the 1950s when artist Jasper Johns painted them, and others riffed off his works.

But today, some people claim that it was a Confederate mantra that began back in the mid-1800s, and have placed their own spin on the US black flag origins and meaning.

It’s also worn as part of an urban camouflage loadout for law enforcement.

We all see what we want to see, and any flag can mean a number of different things to different people.

Is it illegal to wear a US flag print?

This is another fascinating question, and the answer often leads to confusion:

The US flag code states that the flag should “never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”

And you might suddenly get into a panic because you’re wearing Stars-and-Stripes boxer shorts!

Calm your farm, because they’re not actually made from a US flag itself. It’s perfectly legal (and actively encouraged) to wear anything with a print of the US flag.

But should you take a genuine flag off the flag pole and fashion it into a diaper – then you’re going to have all hell to pay.

What does an upside-down American flag mean?

As per the US flag code, the Stars and Stripes should never be flown or worn upside down, and it is considered extremely disrespectful should you do so.

However, it is permissible in times of extreme distress and can be used to signal for help in this manner.

And let me tell you, the second you fly a US flag upside down in the US, someone is going to come a-running.


Can civilians wear American flag patches? They sure can.

Providing it’s worn with respect and the US flag code is followed, then there are no restrictions for non-military personnel wearing the Stars and Stripes.

I hope you found this article informative and entertaining. Let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments, below. Do you wear the US flag on your gear?

Stay safe out there!