From Revolution to Runway: The History of American Flag Clothing

by John Amato

The history of the American flag is fascinating for how it has withstood lengthy wars and changed as the country changed; eventually inspiring songs, books, art, and, of course, fashion.

The flag was adopted as a symbol of patriotism during the American Revolution. It evolved over the years to become a fashion item on runways and celebrity red carpets.

Nowadays, anyone can wear the flag on their clothing, whether it’s t-shirts, bags, caps, dresses, or hoodies, thanks to screen printing and embroidery technology.

As we take you through the 246 years of the American flag’s history, you’ll learn interesting information about:

  • What events inspired the use of the American flag on clothing
  • What types of American flag clothing are available today
  • The correct direction the American flag should face on clothing
  • Efficient methods of transferring the American flag to your shirts

Birth of the American Flag

American flag on the back of a shirt

The origin of the first official flag isn’t totally clear, but historians believe that either New Jersey Congressman Francis Hopkinson or Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross made it during the American Revolution.

Before the revolution, there were different unofficial flag variations with their own meanings:

  • Join or Die flag: Urged Americans to unite for freedom or be captured by the French and die
  • Don’t Tread on Me flag: A warning from the Americans of their willingness to act in defense from coercion by the British empire
  • An Appeal to Heaven flag: Symbolized that if any person or a group of people were deprived their rights, they could appeal to heaven

During the Revolutionary War, Congress decided that America needed an official flag to unite the colonies that were rebelling against British rule. An act establishing an official national flag was passed on June 14, 1777.

Congress resolved that the flag be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, and the Union be represented by thirteen stars, white in a blue field, to signify a new constellation.

Today, there are fifty stars to represent the fifty states of the Union, while the stripes remain thirteen to represent the original thirteen colonies.

It was during the time of the American Revolution that Americans embraced the flag as a symbol of patriotism to their country, and resistance to British rule. It was a sign of honor to the men and women who died during the war to secure America’s freedom.

At that time, there was no flag clothing as the flag had just been made official, and only military and government officials could access it.

How American Flag Clothing Began

American flag on a shirt’s sleeve

It took nearly a century after the adoption of the American flag for it to be proudly displayed on property, products, and clothing.

The American Civil War (1863–1865) played a significant part in popularizing the flag. Citizens raised flags at home and work to show solidarity during war, and their soldiers wore it on their clothing during battle.

During the first and second world wars, women pinned red, white, and blue ribbons in their hair to show support for their male relatives fighting in the war.

Next came the hippie movement of the 1960s, when young people rebelled against societal norms. They started wearing clothes with the American flag to mock conformists, and from there, flag clothing spread far and wide.

The American flag was also incorporated into clothing during the 1970s as a lapel pin worn by politicians to show political commitment.

American flag clothing began to take root during the late 19th century, but the 20th century is when the trend became established. This is owed to America’s adoption of screen printing technology, which enabled faster and better printing onto fabric.

American Flag Clothing in the Modern Era

t-shirt with modified American flag

Fast forward to the 21st century and there’s been an explosion of American flag clothing around us: t-shirts, shorts, stilettos, bathing suits, cowboy hats, and more. 

Advancements in modern printing technology have made it possible to create countless variations with digital printing now being readily available.

And the trend has caught on well, with designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren using the flag to inspire their clothing lines, and models now wearing them on runways.

One of the most iconic American flag clothing items is a dress from French Designer Catherine Malandrino. The “Stars and Stripes” dress was worn by celebrities such as Madonna, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Sharon Stone, and Tatyana Ali. 

The dress remains in demand even to this day.

Fashion aside, American flag clothing is still as much a symbol of patriotism in the modern era as it was during the Revolutionary War.

This was especially evident after the September 11 terrorist attack when American flag paraphernalia sprung up everywhere. From bags, t-shirts, and hats, to all types of apparel, people were able and proud to show patriotism through flag clothing during that difficult time.

Though American flag clothing has become popular, it hasn’t been without incidents. In 2015, rapper A$AP Rocky designed a t-shirt featuring an upside-down flag. It had to be quickly taken off the shelves due to criticism from the military and the public.

Placing the flag upside down is against the American flag code, and it’s only recommended during times of extreme danger to life or property.

But despite the occasionally disruptive incident, which doesn't happen often, Americans’ love for flag clothing is undeniable, and they continue to wear it with pride.

American flag clothing photo snippet

Get Your Clothing Printed With the American Flag—the Correct Way

If you didn’t know, there’s an official way to orient the American flag on clothes. When placing it on the sleeve, the stars should face towards the front of the body and the bars to the back.

This specific placement is meant to mimic a flag hoisted high and flying backwards in the wind as it did during times of war.

The shirt below is a good example of how to place the flag on a sleeve.

t-shirt with the American flag on the sleeve

If you prefer that the flag be placed on the front, back, or on panels other than the sleeves, you can choose which direction you want it to face.

American flag on the back of a shirt

Jupmode can embroider or print the American flag for your personal, institutional, or company apparel. We’ll put it right where you want, whether on the sleeves, front, or back.

We personally recommend screen printing or heat transfer if you want the American flag to appear on a large area of the shirt. Repeated embroidery on a large area will cause your shirt to feel bulky.

The table below compares screen printing and heat transfer.

Screen Printing Heat Transfer
  • Produces durable designs
  • Prints well even on dark fabric
  • Cost-effective for large orders
  • High quality graphics due to high resolution
  • Can use multiple colors as long as they don’t overlap
  • Doesn’t use dyes and solvents, making it a clean process
  • Limited color usage since one color uses one mesh
  • Uses more products than heat transfer
  • Process can be messy due to use of solvents and dyes
  • Doesn’t produce durable designs
  • Not ideal for printing on dark fabric
  • Unsuitable for large orders due to time consumption

If you don’t want to use the American flag as it is, we can use its colors to create beautiful logos that your company or institution can show off. Check out this example:

logo with American flag colors

At Jupmode, we pride ourselves on our creativity. 

If you’ve toured our shop, we'll be happy to take you on a tour of the rest of our building, especially our renovated rooms.

Jupmode Can Help You Revisit the History of American Flag Clothing

American flag clothing has a history that dates back to the Revolutionary War, when the first official flag was made.

After soldiers started wearing the flag on their uniforms during the civil war, the trend continued through World War I and II, all throughout the hippie movement, and currently into the 21st century where it has become a fashion statement.

Revisit the history of American flag clothing by getting Jupmode to print or embroider your shirts with the flag. You’ll be proud to show them off on special days such as July 4th (Flag Day), or any other.

“We used them for company t-shirts. Excellent price, quality, design team and quick shipping. We’ll be back! Thank you Jupmode.”
Christina P

Make your order now and let’s get you in a patriotic mood with American flag clothing.

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