Virginia’s S.O.B

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Virginia’s state flag is a S.O.B.

This is the derogatory term used by vexillologists, people who study flags (who knew there were such people?), to designate state flags that are “Seals On a Blanket.”

According to the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA), such flags are “objectively terrible.” The Commonwealth is in good company, however.  NAVA reports that the flags of 24 states consist of the seal on a bed of blue, while the flags of 11 other states vary only in the background color.

NAVA sets out five principles for good flag design:

  • Be simple (a child should be able to draw it from memory);
  • Have meaningful symbols;
  • Be limited to two or three colors;
  • Have no lettering (it can’t be read at a distance);
  • Be distinctive.

The Washington Post reports that Utah has recently adopted a new flag design.  One of the legislators who was a chief proponent of the legislation had once thought such an effort was a waste of time. Then he visited Mount Rushmore, where he had trouble picking the Utah state flag out of the display of state flags there. He also noticed at the Four Corners that the Utah flag “didn’t really stand out” when compared to the flags of the other three states. Finally, a colleague showed him a successful TED talk by Roman Mars, who has a well-known podcast on design. The talk, entitled, “Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed,” emphasized the importance of good flag design. (It is an entertaining and thought-provoking talk.)

The current Utah flag:

The newly-adopted flag:

The beehive is a symbol of the Mormon Church, representing industry and community.

Following the TED talk, 300 cities redesigned their flags. Three states, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Illinois are actively considering changing theirs. It is not unprecedented for a state to change its flag. Mississippi recently adopted a new flag without Confederate symbolism. Georgia has changed its flag four times over the last 100 years.

Here is my favorite state flag:

New Mexico state flag

Others I really like are:

South Carolina state flag


Alaska state flag

Should Virginia change its “Seal on a Bedsheet”?  If it should consider doing so, I would propose a single dogwood blossom on a field of blue: