graded: US flags, part I

As you may or may not know, I am very serious about flags, and I’m also very opinionated and judgmental. This three-part blog will be an unholy combination of those traits. I will be grading all flags of US states, districts, and territories, on a modified letter grade system (A+ through F-). I’m sure you’ll think I’m wrong. I don’t care.


What can you say about the flag of the state of Alabama? It’s simple, sure, and doesn’t fall into the bad design traps that so many other flags do. Maybe I’m just biased because it’s Alabama. It’s like the big red X on the flag is a warning to not go there.

Grade: C+


I like this flag. The inclusion of the Big Dipper (or Ursa Major, aka “Big Bear,” aka “the thing that will kill the crap out of you in Alaska”) and the North Star are very pretty clever elements to uniquely identify the state. However, it feels a little like a first draft, and could use some revision.

Grade: B

American Samoa

This flag has a lot going for it. I like the use of bold, simple shapes. I like how the blue triangles look a bit like a maritime signal flag. But there’s problems: the bald eagle (c’mon, man, do you need your flag to remind you that you’ve been colonized?), and the uatogi or “war club,” while a cool nod to traditional Samoan chiefs, is just, well, busy. Too busy. And it’s so wiiiiiiiiiiide.

Grade: C


This is solid design. I love it. The rays of the sun setting in the West shining out from the central star draw the eye in. The use of colors, both contrasting and complementary, just flat out look good. The blue, apparently known as “liberty blue,” doesn’t really have much to do with the state, but it looks good enough that it’s not really worth taking off points.

Grade: A


My instincts initially were to grade this flag higher than where it ultimately ended up. There’s a clean-ness to the design (with the exception of the hastily-added ARKANSAS in the middle, which certainly docks it at least a letter grade). The diamond, the blue outline, the stars, the red background – all parts of a quality design that would have raised it up to a high C. But then I found out that the uppermost blue star represents the Confederacy.

Grade: F


The “Bear Flag,” named for the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt (when the Bear Flag Republic attempted to break away from Mexico), is a modernized version of the flag flown at the time. I’m breaking some of my own rules, because it’s a “busy” flag not composed of simple shapes (like, it would be hard to cut the shapes for this out of cloth), but it’s just cool looking. Plus, the bear is modeled after Monarch, the last California grizzly who died in 1911. That’s awesomely sad. Or sadly awesome. (Bonus points for the New California Republic flag from the Fallout series)

Grade: B+


Every single time I see this flag, I think it’s from a city that starts with a C (Cincinnati, Chicago, Cocoa Beach, et al). It’s not really the fault of the flag, it just is what it is. It’s a perfectly good flag, and a fantastic improvement from the pre-1911 flag (which was one of the dreaded “blue rectangle with state seal on it” flags that so many others insist on), but still. I just see Cupertino.

Grade: B-


Here’s one of the “blue rectangle with state seal on it” (BRWSSOI) flags. I don’t like them. They’re boring and unimaginative. They don’t have what makes a good flag good. They’re hard to distinguish from a distance. And they usually have something stupid on them, which in this case is the Latin phrase “Qui Transtulit Sustinet”, which means “He who transplanted sustains,” whatever the hell that means. But it’s got grapevines, which is kind of cool I guess.

Grade: D-


Oh good Lord, what’s going on here? At first, I’m tempted to give some credit for not falling into the BRWSSOI trap, but a quick look at the relevant state laws will tell you that background is (and I’m not making this up) “colonial blue.” So it’s a BRWSSOI with added history homework. Oh, and there’s a farmer and a hunter. I’m sorry, a “Husbandman” and a “Rifleman,” according to the law. Screw this flag.

Grade: F+


The first sentence of the Wikipedia article about this flag reads, and remember, this is a quote, “The flag of Florida, often referred to as the Florida flag, is the state flag of Florida.” Is that linguistic abortion the fault of the flag of Florida, or the Florida flag? No, but I’m going to hold them accountable all the same. Someone has to. Plus, it’s the Alabama flag (“the big red X on the flag is a warning to not go there”) with a damn state seal on it. Florida Man should wear this as a cape.

Grade: F


Did you think you could pull a fast one on me, Georgia? Did you think I’d be soooo happy that you finally stopped using the damn Confederate Battle Flag to accompany your BRWSSOI in 2001 that I’d let this slide? You didn’t start using the traitor flag until 1956! Now, why would that be? What was going on in the south back then? *checks notes* Oh, Brown v. Board of Education was 1954 and Rosa Parks was 1955, so I’m feeling like… yeah, the Klan might’ve had something to do with this one, so eliminating that forty five years later doesn’t get you extra credit.

Grade: F


The first of the non-state United States flags and this one is meh. It’s a BRWSSOI that happens to 1) have a nice red border, and 2) have a particularly interesting seal, but I’m not grading seals – I’m grading flags. And it’s still a BRWSSOI, and that hurt its grade pretty significantly.

Grade: D+


The canton (that’s a flag term) of Hawai’i’s flag is the Union Jack of the UK. There’s a very long and convoluted story behind this, but suffice it to say it’s because Britain couldn’t stop colonizing the crap out of everyone and everything. The eight horizontal stripes are for the eight major islands, except when there’s only seven for the seven major islands. It’s confusing. But I still like it.

Grade: B-


BRWSSOI? BRWSSOI. BRWSSOI!!!! And this one doesn’t even fall within a normal flag proportion range (it’s officially 33:26, in case you’re wondering). And it says “State of Idaho” TWICE. While there are potatoes hidden within the seal, we all know that the flag may as well just be a picture of a single spud, and I think we would all respect them more for it.


Grade: F


Oh great, another BRW…. wait, what? It’s a white rectangle with state seal on it? Well excuse the hell out of me. This is somehow even lazier. It’s also not even the entire great seal. It’s missing the gold rope, yellow circle, and text. They should ditch this phoned-in disaster and just use the cover of Illinoise. You know it, I know it, and Sufjan Stevens knows it.

Grade: D-


It’s not a “bad” flag. It’s not a BRWSSOI, which it easily could have been (and in fact historically was). I might have been tempted to forgive that because the seal has a bison on it, but that would probably just remind me that there aren’t bison in Indiana anymore. Also, this flag says INDIANA on it, and I’m just tired of flags that say the name of the state. Lean on the branding, man!

Grade: C-


It’s not the state seal (though it is a component of it) and it’s not a blue rectangle (it just has a blue rectangle), but it’s got TOO. DAMN. MANY. WORDS. ON. IT. It’s the state motto, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain, and our longwindedness we will embroider, and blah blah blah.” I do like the typeface used for IOWA, even if I don’t think it should be included.

Grade: F+


Okay, let’s see here… BRWSSOI? Check. A bunch of words? Check. Oh, a random sunflower, too! This looks like it was designed by committee. Oh, right, it probably was. There was a state “banner” of Kansas that’s a similar blue rectangle, but with a large stylized sunflower in the middle. That’s a much cooler flag, and makes this one look worse by comparison.

Grade: D-


This is the flag of my home state. I hate this flag. It’s the worst of the BRWSSOI. It’s got a bunch of words on it, including the fully spelled-out COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY in a font so narrow, Guns ‘n’ Roses called and said it’s too hard to read (that’s a reference to the albums Use Your Illusion I & II, which I really wish I didn’t have to explain, but then my back hurts every morning). Also, it was “designed” by Frankfort, KY art teacher Jesse Cox Burgess in 1918 by taking the existing state seal and boldly putting it on a blue rectangle.

Grade: F-

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