Deducting Uniforms and Work Clothes

Under certain limited circumstances you can deduct the cost of work clothes or uniforms.

A substantial work-related expense that many people have is clothing they buy for work. For example, what if a salesperson buys a fancy suit that he wears only while working. Is the cost deductible?

Unfortunately, the answer is "no." The IRS does like people deducting the cost of clothing and has adopted highly restrictive rules about when it can be deducted. Under these rules, you can deduct the cost of clothing only if:

  • it is required by your employer or essential for your business if you're self-employed
  • it is not suitable for ordinary street wear, and
  • you don’t wear the clothing outside of work.

Thus, you can't deduct the cost of a business suit--even if you only wear it at work--because it can be worn outside of work. This is so even if your employer requires you to buy the suit.

You can only deduct special clothing not suitable for ordinary wear. Here are some examples:

Uniforms. You may deduct the cost of uniforms that are not suitable for ordinary wear such as a nurse's uniform, security guard uniform, or bus driver uniform. However, courts have disallowed deductions for a tennis pro outfit and a house painting uniform because both of these could be worn on the street.

Work clothes. Work clothes not suitable for ordinary wear can also be deductible--for example, a teacher's artist's smock, special sanitary clothing, and special boots worn by electricians. However, you can't deduct work clothes just because they were ruined at work. For example, a clerk was not allowed to deduct the cost of a shirt that was ruined by an ink stain at work.

It can be tough to know what clothes are, and are not, suitable for ordinary wear. Consider, for example, the case of Don Teschner, a musician in Rod Stewart’s band, who attempted to deduct as a business expense various items of stage clothing, including silk boxers, leather pants, men’s underwear, hats, and a vest. The tax court rejected out of hand any deduction for the silk boxers and underwear, declaring that underwear clearly could not qualify as a business expense. The majority of the remaining clothes were likewise not deductible because they could be adapted for street wear. However, there were some items that the court deemed too “flashy” or “loud” to be acceptable for ordinary wear and it allowed Teschner a $200 deduction for them. The moral: Wear “loud” clothes on stage if you’re a rock musician and want a tax deduction. (Teschner v. Commissioner, TC Memo 1997-498.)

If your clothing is deductible, you may also deduct the cost of dry cleaning and other care.

If you take this deduction, keep receipts showing you actually paid for it. You also need proof showing why the clothing is deductible.

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