High Fashion Work Clothes Aren’t Deductible

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Julian Block
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Paying the shirt off your back at Form 1040 time? Forget about any deduction for what you wear to work from what you make at work.

Generally, it makes no difference that your work requires you to be fashionably or expensively dressed. You reap no write-off for what you spend on clothing that’s adaptable to general wear off the job. However, a long-standing rule authorizes a deduction for the cost and upkeep of special work clothes or equipment that satisfy a two-step test.

The first stipulation is that they must be required as a condition of employment. The second one is that they aren’t suitable for everyday use. Some examples of items that readily pass IRS muster are uniforms worn by ballplayers, firefighters, police officers, letter carriers, nurses, and jockeys, as well as clothing that protects workers from injuries, a category that includes safety shoes and glasses, hard hats, and work gloves.

An often-overlooked point is that the deduction is allowable only if both conditions are met, cautions the IRS. It’s not enough that your employer requires you to wear special clothing.

Usually, the IRS prevails in disputes over clothing deductions. For example, the feds eventually emerged triumphant in a case involving Sandra J. Pevsner, manager of the Sakowitz Yves St. Laurent Rive Gauche Boutique in Dallas. The high-fashion boutique sold only St. Laurent-designed clothing and accessories, and required Sandra to buy and wear only its designer clothes while working.

Sandra claimed a business-expense deduction for the cost, plus cleaning expenses, of the apparel she was expected to purchase and wear at work. She was backed by the Tax Court, which used a subjective test to justify the write-off. The court reasoned that whether the garb in issue is suitable off the job must be determined by a worker’s particular lifestyle. 

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