A work-related expense many people have is their clothing related to work. This includes the clothes they buy and things like dry cleaning costs. Let’s see if you can deduct dry cleaning costs and other clothes-related work costs.

Can I Write Off the Costs of Work Clothes?

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.  There are restrictive rules about when these costs can be deducted. You can deduct the cost of clothing only if:

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

You can’t deduct the cost of a business suit because it can be worn outside of work. This applies even if you’re required to wear the suit as part of your employment.

A tv news anchor wasn’t allowed to deduct the cost of traditional business suits and other conservatively-styled attire her employer required her to buy. Even though she only wore the clothing at work, it was suitable for everyday personal wear. (Hamper v. Comm’r, TC Summ. Op. 2011-17.)

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When Can You Deduct Clothing Costs?

You can only deduct special clothing not suitable for ordinary wear. This includes uniforms and work clothes.

Uniforms

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

But, you may deduct the cost of clothing that contains a company logo. An example includes a blazer containing a company logo.

Work Clothes

Work clothes not suitable for ordinary wear can also be deductible. This includes a teacher’s artist’s smock, special sanitary clothing, and special boots worn by electricians.

Yet, 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.

Can I Deduct Dry Cleaning Costs?

It can be tough to know what clothes are, and are not, suitable for ordinary wear. Consider 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. This included 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. 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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Stephen Fishman

Stephen Fishman

Stephen Fishman is a self-employed tax expert and regular contributor to MileIQ. He has dedicated his career as an attorney and author to writing useful, authoritative and recognized guides on taxes and business law for entrepreneurs, independent contractors, freelancers and other self-employed people. He is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles, and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Visit Fishman Law and Tax Files for more information on his work.
Stephen Fishman