In 2004, the North American Vexillological Association ranked North American city flags. Washington, D.C. came in first while Chicago placed second. It’s not hard to see why when this criteria is considered (from From Good Flag, Bad Flag):

  1. Keep It Simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
  2. Use Meaningful Symbolism. The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
  3. Use 2 or 3 Basic Colors. Limit the number of colors on the flag to three which contrast well and come from the standard color set.
  4. No Lettering or Seals. Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal.
  5. Be Distinctive or Be Related.  Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

In the past, I’ve pointed out the “rivalry” between the two cities based on flags. I have also showed appreciation for the District’s flag as it has become a rallying point and brand feature in the 21st century.

Giving the four mullets some love

Chicago’s flag is familiar to me from watching those Cubs games back in the day.. I think Macauly Culkin’s character had a Chicago flag in his room in Home Alone.1

Unlike most city and state flags, Chicago’s is memorable. Roman Mars of 99% invisible talked about how ubiquitous the Chicago flag was on a notable podcast/Ted Talk2 (remember those).

The blue bars represent Lake Michigan the Chicago River. The four six-sided stars, also known as mullets, represent Ft. Dearborn (the original trading post), 1871 Chicago Fire, 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and finally the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition. It seems like it’ll stop at four, though there have been suggestions for a fifth.

How much does it fly?

One of the things I planned on observing when I was in the Windy City was – is the Chicago flag as common as the DC flag?

The answer – I don’t think so, but I may have had too a small sample size.

In DC, the flag is in front of hotels, government buildings,including some federal buildings and in restaurants, on beer can labels and other products and flying outside of private residences. It’s become en vogue for DC teams to include flag imagery on their uniforms ( too. A former co-worker of mine has a tattoo of it as well.

In Chicago, I saw it on the roof of the arena adjacent to McCormick Place (pictured above). Boats on the river flew them and some other buildings. It didn’t feel as common in the Loop or out and about in the three neighborhoods near Wrigleyville along the CTA Red Line. Perhaps I just didn’t see enough of the “real Chicago.”

Overall, the experience just reinforced my own preference and NAVA’s ranking – DC’s flag is #1, but Chicago is a strong second place. Both are celebrations of great cities. 

Fly the W and Fly the Curly W

On another vexillological note, the Chicago Cubs fly a flag after each game that shows the outcome. When they win, a W flag and when they lose an L flag. It’s visible from the L. The tradition has changed in recent years as fans are sometimes flying the W all the time (Chicago Tribune).

The Cubs W is a basic sans serif, so it is similar to the 1920s Washington Senators W (

Nats fans fly the Curly W of course, win or lose.


1 I don’t recall it in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off though.

2 I think that’s the only TED Talk I’ve ever watched. They didn’t age too well post-2016, did they?

Leave a Reply