Are Work Clothes and Uniforms Deductible?

Posted by Lee Reams Sr. on

The costs of purchasing and upkeep of work clothing are deductible if the following two requirements are met.

1) They are worn as a condition of employment.

2) The clothing is not suitable for everyday wear. It is not enough that the clothing be distinctive, it must be specifically required by the taxpayer’s employer. Nor is it enough that the taxpayer does not, in fact, wear the work clothes away from work. The clothing must not be suitable for taking the place of the taxpayer’s regular clothing.

Examples of workers who may be able to deduct the cost and upkeep of work clothes are: delivery workers, firefighters, health care workers, law enforcement officers, letter carriers, professional athletes, and transportation workers (air, rail, bus, etc.). Musicians and entertainers can deduct the cost of theatrical clothing and accessories if they are not suitable for everyday wear.  IRS contends that white bib overalls and standard shoes, such as a painter might wear, are not distinctive in character or in the nature of a uniform.

Recent Tax Court Case - The Tax Court has held that a salesman for Ralph Lauren who was required to purchase and wear the designer's apparel while representing the company couldn't deduct the cost of such clothing as unreimbursed employee expenses.   The Court found that the clothing was clearly suitable for regular wear and upheld IRS's imposition of an accuracy-related penalty with respect to the related portion of the underpayment. (Barnes, TC Memo 2016-79)

The costs of protective clothing required for work, such as safety shoes or boots, safety glasses, hard hats and work gloves, are deductible. Examples of workers who may require safety items include carpenters, chemical workers, machinists, oil field workers, pipe fitters, and truck drivers.

Military Uniforms - Taxpayers generally cannot deduct the cost of uniforms if they are on full-time active duty in the armed forces.  However, armed forces reservists can deduct the unreimbursed cost of uniforms if military regulations restrict the taxpayers from wearing it except while on duty as a reservist. A student at an armed forces academy cannot deduct the cost of uniforms if they replace regular clothing.  However, the cost of insignia, shoulder boards, and related items are deductible.  Civilian faculty and staff members of a military school can deduct the cost of uniforms.