Uniform used only for work can be tax deduction

I have uniforms that I wear at work and I pay to
have the uniforms laundered. I also pay for occasional repairs on the uniforms
and I pay for work shoes that I have to wear in my job. Are all these expenses
deductible as itemized deductions?

B.C., Indianapolis

If your work clothing constitutes a uniform in the eyes of the IRS, you will be entitled to a deduction. The uniform has to be clothing that is required by your employer, and (this is the gray area) not suitable for everyday wear.

To qualify as a tax-deductible uniform, your clothing must not be able to pass for clothing a normal person would wear when not on the job. This description is fairly dubious because of course we all know there is no such thing as a normal person, and often people wear their work uniforms after they get home from work because they don't want to bother changing clothes.

Some items that qualify as tax-deductible uniforms are easy to spot. Jumpsuits with your name embroidered on the pocket, for example, are an easy mark for tax deductibility. Firemen and policemen and UPS drivers all wear uniforms that are clearly uniforms. Uniforms sporting a company name or logo will usually pass the deductibility test.

If your uniform qualifies as a uniform for purposes of itemizing, you can deduct the cost of purchasing or renting the clothing, and the cost of cleaning and repair. Deductions are taken as part of your Miscellaneous Deductions, on Schedule A. Your total deductions must be higher than the Standard Deduction in order for you to itemize. For 1998, you will be able to itemize if your deductions total more than the following amounts:

  • Single $4,250
  • Married Filing Jointly $7,100
  • Married Filing Separately $3,550
  • Head of Household $6,250
  • Surviving Spouse $7,100

In addition, your total miscellaneous deductions including uniform expenses are limited to the amount by which the deductions exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.

The cost and maintenance of work shoes, hard hats, safety glasses, work gloves, and other protective clothing are also deductible as uniforms, as long as the items are required in your job.

Some clothing may seem like a uniform but it won't fit the IRS definition. For example, I traveled to an out-of-town speaking engagement once, years ago, and inadvertently left my garment bag at home. When I arrived at my hotel, late at night, I realized all my dress clothing was still on my bed at home. It was too late to go shopping (this was before the advent of stores being open 24-hours a day).

As I was pondering my dilemma in the hotel lobby, I noticed that all the hotel employees wore crisp, neat-looking business suits (neat, as in clean and ironed, definitely not neat as in stylish). The suits had the look of a uniform, but maybe that was because all the employees wore the same suit. Anyway, I was desperate, and I inquired as to the source of the suits. The hotel manager explained that the suits were the uniform of the staff, and that all uniforms not in use were kept in a closet behind the front desk.

He let me check the closet and, sure enough, there was one that fit me. I was allowed to borrow the "uniform" for my speech the next day, and no one was the wiser. (Okay, maybe everyone knew I was wearing a hotel clerk's uniform and was just too kind to comment on my choice of attire. But at least I didn't have someone's name on the pocket or the hotel insignia across the back of my shoulders& ) Because this uniform could be worn outside the job premises and, presumably, pass as regular clothing, this outfit would definitely not qualify as a uniform for purposes of itemizing deductions.

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