Work Clothes Deduction: Can You Write Off Business Clothes?

Stephen Fishman
Tax expert and contributor MileIQ

Terance Barnes' employer required him to wear Ralph Lauren clothing while on the job as a salesman at Ralph Lauren. He purchased Ralph Lauren shirts, pants, ties and a suit. He deducted these costs as unreimbursed employee expenses on his Schedule A. Did he qualify for the work clothes deduction?    

What Qualifies for the Work Clothes Deduction

No. The IRS audited Barnes and denied his deduction. The cost of clothing can be a deductible business expense only if the clothing is:  

  • required or essential in the taxpayer's employment
  • not suitable for general or personal wear

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Barnes couldn't deduct the costs of his clothing because Ralph Lauren apparel is¬†suitable for general or personal wear. (Barnes v. Comm'r, T.C. Memo. 2016-79).    

You can only take the work clothes deduction if the apparel is not suitable for street wear. For example, you may deduct the cost of work uniforms like a nurse's uniform, theatrical costumes or hazmat suits.    

The tax court said, "Mr. Barnes was required to wear Ralph Lauren clothing while representing the company. Ralph Lauren clothing, however, is suitable for general or personal wear. Thus, Mr. Barnes' costs to acquire and maintain his Ralph Lauren clothing is not deductible."    

You can even deduct a sport coat with a company logo on it that your employer requires you to wear. But forget about deducting a nice business suit or any Ralph Lauren-type clothing. If your clothing is deductible, you may also deduct the cost of dry cleaning and other care.    

It's impossible to tell if Barnes was intentionally trying to take an ineligible deduction or just didn't know the requirements. But this case just shows how important it is to have an accurate understanding of the rules and requirements for each deduction.

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