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What does the gold fringe on the American flag mean?

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It is an honorable enrichment only, not an integral part of the flag. As it is attached on the edge, it does not "deface" the flag which therefore remains the Stars and Stripes of the US (as per the opinion of the US Attorney General in 1925). The fringe is used only inside or on a staff when carried outside by a bearer, it is never flown from a staff or pole outside (the fringe would fray). As there is no wind to move a flag when inside, the gold fringe adds an element of "prettiness", nothing more. The US is indeed prone to having a fringe more than other countries but most national flags have a fringe in some circumstances and no other country attributes any meaning to the fringe except that it looks better.
There are many posts that posit the theory that the fringe represents martial or admiralty law. However there is no law, decree, order or other legally enforceable proclamation that mentions the fringe, either to prescribe or proscribe its use. Many quote Executive Order 10834 (under President Eisenhower) however this is a public document available in full on the Internet (try the US Archives) and a review will show no mention of a fringe at all. US Army Orders (840-10) do make the use of the fringe obligatory inside, but these apply to the US Army only. The law that defines the flag and its use is USC Title 4 Chapter 1 - again a public document whose provisions are enforceable in a federal court. There is nothing that says that a civilian or civilian organisation may not fly a flag with a gold fringe.
Strangely, although admiralty law applies to ships, the fringe is never flown on a ship, surely an inconsistency.
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