I have a suit in my closet. It’s not a horrible suit but it’s still a suit. And I am not a suit person. I have to have it, however, because occasionally, I have to be in court. And judges like suits.
In that way, it feels like a uniform. It’s something that I wear for one purpose and one purpose alone. You will never see me at a school function in that suit. Or eating out. Or walking the dog. Or even in the office. Never. I only wear it to court.
With those limitations, my suit should be tax-deductible, right? It’s not. For purposes of federal income tax, clothing is tax-deductible if it meets two criteria:
- You must wear them as a condition of your employment; and
- The clothes are not suitable for everyday wear.
I fail both tests. The suit isn’t a condition of my employment. It’s desirable, sure, but that’s not the same thing.
And the clothes are clearly suitable for everyday wear. It’s not my style. But could I wear it every day? Of course, I could. The rule doesn’t hinge on whether you would wear the clothing outside of your employment but whether you could.
In fact, the Internal Revenue Service makes it clear that “[i]t is not enough that you wear distinctive clothing… Nor is it enough that you do not, in fact, wear your work clothes away from work. The clothing must not be suitable for taking the place of your regular clothing.” Some examples include clothing worn by certain delivery workers, firefighters, health care workers, law enforcement officers, letter carriers, professional athletes, and transportation workers (air, rail, bus, etc.). It also includes the cost of protective clothing required in your work, such as safety shoes or boots, safety glasses, hard hats, and work gloves.
Under the rules, it would not include the all-black outfit you wear at your hostessing job or even the black and white outfit that you were forced to buy for your high-end retail gig. Again, even if you wouldn’t wear those things out, you could, unlike your firefighter uniform.
Likewise, entertainers can deduct only the cost of theatrical clothing, costumes, and accessories that are not suitable for everyday wear. The “not suitable for everyday wear” bit is key – just because you do wear it on stage doesn’t make it deductible if you could wear it offstage. That’s why The Game’s comment that rappers can deduct the cost of “[b]uying Jordans” is wrong. And it’s exactly why ABBA’s choice to buy outrageous costumes and deduct them would have passed tax muster in the US as it did in Sweden. Like the US, Swedish tax laws allowed the cost of their outfits to be deducted against tax “so long as the costumes were so outrageous they could not possibly be worn on the street.”
Björn Ulvaeus, of the group, said about their outfits:
In my honest opinion we looked like nuts in those years. Nobody can have been as badly dressed on stage as we were.
But the polyester, bling, and hot pants were tax-deductible in Sweden so they wore it – more and more outrageous every time:
The same result would be reached under U.S. tax law. The costumes would not have been considered suitable for everyday wear and thus, would have been deductible. A good rule of thumb: the more outrageous, the more deductible.
What about the cost of school uniforms? Those are not deductible. The IRS does not allow deductions for school uniforms for public, parochial, or private schools even if uniforms are required: they’re considered a personal expense and could be worn outside of school (even if they never are). You can, however, deduct the cost of insignia, shoulder boards, and related items worn at military schools since those are not intended to be worn outside of school (you still can’t deduct the basic uniform).
Military personnel generally cannot deduct the cost of uniforms for those who are full-time active duty unless local military rules do not allow you to wear fatigue uniforms when you are off duty. In that event, you can only deduct the amount to buy and maintain the uniform in excess of any allowance given for that purpose. The rules are different for those who are in the reserves: you can generally deduct the cost of your uniform if military regulations require that you only wear it while on duty (the same allowance rules apply).
If you are eligible to deduct the cost of your clothing, you would take the deduction on Schedule A at line 21 as an unreimbursed employee expense. It’s treated, for tax purposes, as a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to the 2% limit. This means that you can only claim the amount of expenses that total more than 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI, found at line 38 of your form 1040). So for example, if your AGI is $50,000, then you would only claim expenses greater than $1,000 (2% of $50,000). If your total miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% limit totaled $2,500, then you would actually deduct $1,500, or $2,500 (expenses) – $1,000 (limit).
The reality is that for most taxpayers, clothing and uniforms will not be deductible. There are few exceptions – just make sure that you read and understand the criteria. You don’t want to find yourself sending out an SOS because of the IRS (Dad, that’s an ABBA joke).
Note: The TCJA made changes to many tax deductions previously available on Schedule A, including miscellaneous deductions that exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income (“AGI”). This is applicable for the years 2018-2025.