Wednesday, June 8, 2016

If Your Job Requires It, Can You Deduct It?



I was recently talking with a friend about job opportunities available to him.

Some locations – like New York and L.A. – he dismissed immediately.

Then he mentioned that another location would require him to “suit and tie” every day.

I could not help but laugh. We both worked together in a mandatory “tie” environment, and I have worked in a mandatory “coat and tie” one. I suspect the latter is because the firm was downtown, and the firm wanted to project a certain image as its employees walked about. 

Still, suiting up gets expensive.

Sure would be nice if you could get a tax deduction out of it.

It’s almost impossible.

There is a famous case that laid down three requirements for clothing to be deductible:

(1) The clothing is of a type specifically required as a condition of employment;
(2) It is not adaptable to ordinary day-to-day wear; and
(3)  It is not used for day-to-day wear.

All in all, that seems to cover almost all clothing, unless you wear uniforms or are an astronaut.

But let me give you a few odd situations, and you tell me if there is hope of a tax deduction:

(1) You are a painter and are requested by the union to wear the traditional white-on-white painter’s outfit.
(2) You are a television news anchor and have to dress the part.
(3)  You are a Swedish rock band and wear clothing that looks like it has been dragged and ripped by wild dingoes.
(4) You are a musician and dress like a gypsy (or Welsh witch) for your performances.

There is a fellow who works for Ralph Lauren Corp. The company requires him to wear Ralph Lauren apparel while representing the company. As a consequence he has quite the extensive collection (and investment), and he tried to deduct some of it as a miscellaneous deduction on his Schedule A.


The Tax Court just said no dice. The clothing could be used day-to-day and therefore did not rise to the level of a deduction. The cost and restrictions imposed upon him by his employer were not tax relevant.

In truth, I wonder why he even pursued this matter. There is a case from before I came out of school where an Yves Saint Laurent employee tried the same deduction and failed.

Back to our examples:

(1) No deduction. The clothing could still be worn, although one is unlikely to do so. There may be an argument if the union required you to dress that way. The tax trigger would be more the requirement and less the clothing.
(2) Almost impossible. There is a case involving a news anchor with a wardrobe she considered too conservative for everyday use. She segregated it and wore it only at work. Not only did the Tax Court disallow the deduction, they also assessed penalties.
(3) This was the band ABBA, and they got the deduction. If you google their photographs, it is clear you would not wear that clothing outside of a performance or on Halloween.
(4) This was Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. She deducted over $40 grand on her 1991 tax return for costumes and hair styling. The IRS disallowed these and selected other deductions on her return. While the matter was docketed for Tax Court, it was returned to IRS Appeals. It was there resolved, and unfortunately tax practitioners (other than Stevie’s tax advisor) do not know how it turned out.


Then for the extreme tax athletes there is the woman who was able to deduct her body makeup, and I freely admit I am not sure what that is. She did not deduct clothing, as she wore none. She was an actress for the Broadway performances of Oh! Calcutta!

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