What is a State Flag?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A state flag is a flag that represents a specific state within the United States. The bulk of the state flags in use today were designed around the turn of the 20th century and several states have gone through multiple flags before settling on their current incarnations. By convention, state flags are flown at state offices, usually with a United States flag. The US flag must be positioned higher than a state flag by either flying it above the state flag on a flagpole designed to accommodate two flags, or flying it on a higher flagpole if two flagpoles are used.

The flag of the state of Texas flies below the U.S. flag at the state capitol in Austin.
The flag of the state of Texas flies below the U.S. flag at the state capitol in Austin.

Each state flag is highly distinctive, and includes visual elements that are designed to convey the history, spirit, and ethos associated with the state. State symbols include the grizzly bear on the California flag, the rising sun on the Arizona flag, and the beaver on the Oregon flag. Many state flags, including those for Kansas, Maine, Florida, Idaho, and South Dakota, are decorated with the state seal.

The state flag of California includes a grizzly bear.
The state flag of California includes a grizzly bear.

For those interested in vexillology, the scientific study of flags, the state flags furnish a great deal of material of interest. Several states, such as California and Texas, have flags that they used during periods of independence or rebellion from the United States. The Civil War led to the development of a number of distinctive state flags in the Southern States, with the states expressing their support for secession with mottoes like “Independent now and forever,” which appears on the Alabama state flag. These flags can be seen in state archives and numerous reproductions are available in textbooks and history books.

Flags can be made from cotton and other materials. If a flag will be displayed at night and in bad weather, an all-weather design is used. An all-weather state flag will resist fading and bleeding, extending the life of the flag so that it can be displayed longer. Once a flag is no longer fit for display as a result of fading, tears, or other damage, it must be respectfully disposed of and replaced. In several states, community service organizations retire damaged flags and provide new flags free of charge.

Several states have programs similar to that adopted by the United States Capitol, allowing individual citizens to request flags that have flown over the Capitol Building. Citizens can write their lawmakers for more information. States may also fly unique flags, such as historic versions of the state flag, by special arrangement. These flags are also available as mementos.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I am from Texas, and our state flag is very simple. It has the same red, white and blue colors that the US flag has. There is one white star on the left side that is on a blue background.

The rest of the flag is a solid red and white stripe. Even though this is very plain, it has a lot of meaning behind it. The colors represent loyalty, strength and bravery.

When we were in 5th grade, we had to complete a history project on our state. I have always remembered what our state flag looks like and could easily pick it out if it was lined up with several other state flags.


My state flag has our state seal on it with a logo that says, "Equality Before the Law." The entire flag is what our state seal looks like. The flag is a national blue color with the center being gold and silver.

I worked in one of our state offices for many years, so passed by this flag almost every day when I was walking to my office.

I think many people are not aware of what their state flag or seal says or stands for. There is a lot of rich history there, but I think it is common for many people to know very little about them.

I didn't realize you could request a state flag that had flown over the capitol building. My dad has a great collection of flags that have special meaning to him, and he would be pleasantly surprised if he was able to get a flag like this.

I have never really paid much attention to what is on my state flag. I know I have seen it displayed at different places, but really couldn't tell you what is on it.

I wonder how many other people are the same way. I know this is something I studied when I was in school, but I sure don't remember it.

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