People hang flags, wave flags and use them for various reasons. Flags have distinctive shapes and designs that represent symbols, signals or decoration. The term “flag” can refer to the fabric that creates it, a graphic symbol that employs it or its image in other media.

The first flags were used on battlefield for military coordination. In ancient days, they appeared as field signs or standards. During the Middle Ages, they served heraldic purposes. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, during a period known as the Age of Sail, ships carried flags to designate their nationality. The national and maritime flags of today evolved from these early flags.

The rise of nationalist sentiment in the late 18th century saw more flags used outside of naval and military context. During the 19th century, countries around the world began to introduce their national flags. Not only do they symbolize the nations over which they fly, but they also inspire subnational entities.

Some countries have unique flags that their armed forces fly instead of, or along with, their national flags. The United States military uses the standard national flag. Large flags flown on warships are called battle ensigns. During wartime, a white flag indicates surrender or truce.

Flags are particularly important at sea, and their use is strictly regulated. Not only do yachts and merchant ships fly their national flag, but they also fly a courtesy flag of the nation they are visiting. On the beaches of the world, swimming flags are used by surf lifeguard services. Railways also use colorful flags for railway signals.

The Olympic flag and the Flag of the United Nations are two examples of international flags. Many religious groups use prayer flags, and some groups have adopted a flag, like the Christian flag, to represent an entire religion.

Flags are often used in sports for identification and signaling. They play an important role in American and Canadian football, yacht racing, golf, auto racing and other sports. Political activists use flags to represent their cause. The rainbow flag, adopted by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement, is a popular modern example.

Some flags are designed for decorative purposes. Some people hang seasonal or holiday flags in their yards or on their porches. Others fly colorful banners that represent their college or favorite sports team. Flag Store USA is an example of a business that sells quality flags for almost any use or occasion. Shop FlagStoreUSA.com for the perfect flag, flagpole or accessories for home, school or business.