The flags of U.S. states + territories: A definitive ranking
I recently watched a YouTube video that delved into how each U.S. state and territory got its name. Accompanying each state slide was a flag, which made me realize that A) I don’t know most U.S. state flags and B) most of them are terrible.
As an amateur vexillologist, I have decided to rank every U.S. flag (including those of Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa, which are a part of the United States even if they lack federal representation).
I’ll be using guidelines outlined by Roman Mars in his remarkable TED talk, with a few of my own adjustments. I’ll give each flag between 0–5 points for 1) use of color; 2) symbolism; and 3) reproducibility (could a child draw it from memory? Can you recognize what it is when it’s flying on top of a 100-foot tall pole?). I’ll use my own personal taste to adjust flags that have the same score.
Flags will lose points for use of words or letters and if they either evoke or downright copy Confederate flags.
Without further ado, here is every U.S. flag, ranked.
This flag is an abomination. Awful in every way (except for the cool clipper ship). It’s got a date on it, for crying out loud.
I hate everything about this flag. A seal on a bedsheet.
This flag was “inspired” by the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy (and was somehow intended as an upgrade over the previous flag, which featured the Confederate battle flag).
Another example of a state seal slapped onto a blue field, the Idaho flag also features “The State of Idaho” on it in addition to the seal, which already says… “State of Idaho.” Just so, so dumb.
Just an awful effort. It’s a state seal + blue field, and the seal is busy and clunky. Even putting “Montana” above the seal seems in poor taste.
50. South Dakota
In case you were confused as to which state this flag represents, it features the words “South Dakota” twice.
49. North Dakota
The motto script reminds me of Idaho’s flag. Not a flag I would attempt to emulate.
48. New Hampshire
The seal is actually large enough that you can tell what is in it. I guess that’s a plus. But as a general rule, flags that have different, smaller flags on them deserve to be destroyed.
47. New York
No. Just no.
Shame. Shame on all of you. Come up with something original, you hacks.
45. West Virginia
It has a border. That’s kind of cool. Only a few flags have borders.
It’s just a state seal on a flag. The Latin motto means “He who transplanted, sustains.” Ugh.
Seal on a blue field. Again. Its commemorative flag is much better.
Please, just stop it. No more seals. No more blue fields.
This flag, yet again, features a state seal and a bunch of text. The seal is a bit more stylized that other states’, and I kind of like that it’s on a white background. Illinois would be much better off adopting the centennial flag that the famed vexillographer Wallace Rice designed.
The flag loses points for literally having “Arkansas” on it and for representing the Confederacy with a star (among other things). Generally I like the shape and colors.
I like the stag. But the state’s name literally means “Green Mountain” in French. This flag should be green.
38. Northern Mariana Islands
Too busy and I hate the colors. Just not much going on here.
37. North Carolina
North Carolina has a strange flag history. It didn’t have a flag until the state seceded from the Union in 1861, and the current flag, which was adopted after the Confederate defeat, is kind of the same flag with an inverted color scheme. NC could really use a new one.
This flag is just weird. The motto is just kind of slapped on the bottom (and its not even in Latin). and I wish there was just one pelican (they’re supposed to form a fleur-de-lis).
As far as state seals on blue fields go, this one is okay. But this state deserves better.
34. New Jersey
At least it doesn’t have a blue field.
A state seal. On a blue field. With the state name written on it. At least the seal has some fun colors?
Colors are kind of okay. The rest of the front is not. BUT, Oregon’s flag has a back to it, a reverse, which is a cute little beaver (it’s the only two-sided state flag). Just use the beaver.
I don’t hate it. I’d love to see the words and symbols removed and do something with the blue shield and star.
This is just Alabama’s flag with the state seal in the center. Please, states, remove seals from your flags. They add nothing and are difficult to decipher from distance (flags are meant to be displayed, you know, on top of buildings and ships and stuff like that). At least, as far as state seals go, this one is pretty good.
29. U.S. Virgin Islands
The use of a modified U.S. coat of arms is okay, but the “V” and “I” are useless. Not very memorable.
I love the animals on this flag. The stag, moose and eagle are just wonderful. But it also has almost 10 words on it and, yet again, is a seal on a blue field.
At least it’s not a state seal. “Battle born” is kind of badass. I like the placement of the emblem. Not bad.
The seal is kind of… good? And the colors are excellent. The best of the seal + blue field lot.
It’s the French flag with a bunch of words and an eagle on it. I actually really enjoy the typeface used for “Iowa.” Remove the words, keep the eagle and you’ve got a solid flag.
The symbols are excellent: “a traditional Osage Nation buffalo-skin shield with seven eagle feathers on a Choctaw sky blue field.” The presence of the world “Oklahoma,” however, is not.
This flag deserves some love between it’s the only green one in the U.S. (Delaware’s is more of a vomit-inducing aquamarine). It’s also got George Washington’s face on it, which means this flag is basically the one dollar bill.
Okay I know I hate words and seals but this one features a classically nude woman (Virtue) standing over a defeated king with the Latin phrase Sic Semper Tyrannis (Thus always to tyrants) on it. That’s just awesome.
Get rid of the seal in the center and cut down the on the number of stars. Then we’ll talk.
This flag is simple and straightforward. Excellent points for using strong simple colors, being easy to draw and featuring a classic heraldric symbol (St. Andrew’s Cross, also known as a saltire). The flag loses points because it’s based on a Confederate regimental flag.
19. Rhode Island
This flag has a lot going for it. Colors are cool (needs more navy blue). Symbols are excellent. Just go back to the version the state used until 1897. That one was perfect.
18. American Samoa
The eagle is kind of cartoony, and the whole flag seems to be going the wrong direction (usually you see the eye drawn from left to right). It’s unique, and there’s nothing glaringly wrong with it. Just not spectacular.
I really want to like this flag. The colors are fun (they inspired the Pacers uniforms), the design is unique, and I enjoy the stars kind of shooting out of the torch. But, again, words kill.
I do adore the colors and use of the bottom red bar and five-point star. But do we really need “California Republic” written on it? No, no we don’t.
15. South Carolina
The symbols both represent Col. William Moultrie’s successful defense of Charleston from the invincible British navy, an effort so incredible that the original flag came to represent the revolutionary struggle against the British. I’m deducting points because the state hasn’t been able to standardize the size and shape of the crescent and palmetto tree, and the two symbols could be better incorporated together.
This is a brand new flag, and you can tell. The colors are vibrant and wonderful, the magnolia blossom in the center is well stylized, and even the halo of stars is solid. It also replaces a Confederate honoring flag. I don’t even hate the words on this one.
This flag is just fun. The central badge is cute and I dig the shape and border.
Remove the seal and this is a top 5 flag.
The three stars are meant to represent the state’s three main regions. The flag incorporates the tried-and-true red/white/blue color scheme with several white stars. I could do without the extra white and blue bar (added to offset the otherwise potentially overwhelming “crimson”).
Excellent design, I love the central star with rays shooting out of it. Seems exciting, like Arizona is the state of the future. I just don’t adore the colors, particularly the copper central star.
This flag was submitted in a statewide contest in 1927 by a 13-year-old orphan named Benny Benson. It’s an incredibly strong entry with beautiful colors and effective symbolism. Great job, Benny.
I love this flag’s roots. The orange and black elements are from the 2nd Baron of Baltimore’s heraldric banner of arms. It’s busy, but it’s unique and fun. The red and white Crossland banner was originally from the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore’s mother’s family.
The red “C’ is kind of gimmicky, but this flag is well-constructed and has a solid color scheme. It’s the only state flag that’s incorporated unmodified into highway signs, which lets you know how easily reproducible and recognizable it is.
This flag is awesome. It’s a mix of flags flown by overseas British Territories and the U.S. flag, with the Union Jack in the canton and alternating red, white and blue stripes. This flag doesn’t really scream “Hawaii” to me, but it’s very unique among American state flags.
Yes, it’s got the state’s first letter prominently featured, Colorado-style. But this flag is special. It’s unique, colorful and memorable. Top marks.
4. Puerto Rico
There are many reasons why Puerto Rico should be a state. The fact that its flag is absolutely breathtaking isn’t the best reason, but it is definitely a reason.
3. District of Columbia
This flag is just beautiful in its simplicity. It’s actually based on the Washington family coat of arms.
2. New Mexico
Gorgeous. The colors are reminiscent of the Spanish flag and the symbol recognizes the indigenous Pueblo communities. Even the size and placement of the symbol are outstanding. Truly a top-notch flag.
I’m biased. I’m a sixth generation Texan who spent the first 25 years of my life in the Lone Star State. But hear me out. The flag’s colors are timeless. The design is memorable, easy to reproduce and is symbolically important (the single star representing Texas’ independent spirit). And Texans slap it on literally everything. It’s the most recognizable state flag in the country.