Flags are among the most important symbols of our identity. Even if you don’t see yourself as a vexillophile– or a die-hard flag fan – you might be familiar with the story behind your own country’s flag. This is because flags are often the most obvious symbols of our house and the means of assimilation. Flags can be used to unite a group of people or to oppress, depending on the design and how they are used.
Instead of telling you some of the countless hard-hitting and beautiful stories behind the flags of various nations, we break down five stories from other flags. These designs and customs show how flags can make a real difference in the world.
Read on for five great stories about flags, their design, and the history behind them. These stories might even make you a certified vexillophile!
What is vexillology and vexillography?
Vexillology is the study of flags. Vexillologists study not only the designs of the flags, but also the history, symbolism and how the flags were used.
The practice of designing flags is called vexillography. While many flags look relatively straightforward, there are many flag design principles that well-designed flags follow. Of course, not all good flags follow the rules, but they are still good starting points for people who want to understand the basics of vexillography.
- A simple flag can be more effective in becoming a recognizable icon.
- The contrast between the colors is important to make the design easier to read.
- Flags should be timeless, as timely details may become less relevant over time.
- Avoid using too many colors.
- Keep the edges of the flag easy to see so that parts of the design don’t blend into the background when it is flying.
Five stories about the power of flags
Tibetan prayer flags
The story behind Tibetan prayer flags is a little different from the other tales on this list. This isn’t a really great flag design that makes a lot of sense; instead, Tibetan prayer flags are hoisted with many fabrics along a thread. Composed of many different patterns and colors, each flag represents ideas about compassion, strength, peace and wisdom.
These flags have a lot of symbolism. It is believed that the hanging flags will allow the wind to carry prayers to where they are needed, thus helping to spread peace for everyone. There are many traditions surrounding prayer flags, including rules for when they should be removed and how they should be hoisted.
Rainbow Flag / Pride Flag
Known as the pride flag or the rainbow flag, this design is a perfect example of how flags unite people beyond nationality. It was designed by artist and activist Gilbert Boulanger to celebrate the diversity of the LGBTQ + community and movement. Although it was designed for San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978, it has been immortalized as the most recognizable symbol of the LGBTQ + community.
Baker’s original design for the pride flag included eight colors, but was later simplified to make the flag easier to manufacture and give it a clearer identity. The current design includes six colors which, like the original flag, each represent an important idea. The six colors symbolize:
- Red for life
- Orange for healing
- Yellow for sunlight
- Green for nature
- Blue for harmony
- Purple for the Spirit
Yosegaki Hinomaru (Lucky Flags)
It is not an ordinary Japanese flag. Yosegaki hinomaru, or the lucky flag, is a perfect example of how a nation’s flag can become a symbol used for many purposes. The term yosegaki hinomaru translates to a “collection of scriptures around the red sun,” as loved ones would handwrite good luck messages around the inomaru, the circular sun of the Japanese flag. These flags were an important farewell gift to Japanese soldiers, especially during WWII. The OBON SOCIETY strives to reconnect the families of veterans with their old lucky flags.
Yosegaki hinomaru are still used today, but not as a farewell to war. They are used as farewell gifts for students going to school, co-workers who are retiring or for sports teams going on an important outing that represents the country.
True south flag
The True South flag is a great example of a flag that makes an impact. Designed by journalist Evan Townsend, this flag was produced as a non-partisan project to create a symbol for Antarctic. The team behind True South hope the flag will unite the global community and remind them that since Antarctica does not have a permanent human population, all humans have a responsibility to protect it.
The design for The true south focuses on an icy white peak representing the mountains and icebergs of Antarctica. It is reflected on a compass arrow which together creates a diamond shape in blue and white. The two horizontal stripes on the flag represent the long days and nights on the frozen continent. Overall, the design represents “the hope that Antarctica will continue to be a place of peace and discovery for generations to come”.
If you want to learn more about True South and the team behind it, read My Modern Met’s exclusive interview with Townsend.
If you are someone who cares about flags, you might have wondered if there is a flag to represent all nations. Although there is no official flag for all of planet Earth, there have been many proposals for a universal flag.
The international flag of planet Earth is one of the many personal ideas proposed for a flag to represent our planet. It was designed by Oskar Pernefeldt as a symbol of unity “to be used while representing planet Earth” and “to remind the inhabitants of Earth that we share this planet, regardless of national borders; that we should take care of each other and the planet we live on. Although the flag is not official, it is becoming a popular proposal for the flag of planet Earth.
Learn all about Antarctica’s first flag called “true south” [Interview]
Artist embroiders American flag on cover of TIME magazine as a call for change [Interview]
Revealing photo highlights the huge scale of a flag hoisted during the Battle of Trafalgar
Futuristic building “Tower of the Sun” mimics the flag of Kazakhstan with a window on the Ishim river
Bright photos of Antarctica highlight its alluring icy blue surface