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Uniforms and Tax Deductions: A Primer (for the individual buyer)

Do you buy your own uniforms? If so, may be eligible to take a tax deduction at the end of the year.  But whether or not you can take the tax deduction depends on the answer to two questions:

  1. Do you wear the clothing as a condition of your employment?  In other words, does your employer require you to wear particular clothing to work?
  2. Are the clothes you're required to wear otherwise suitable for everyday wear? 

According to Internal Revenue Service Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions,if you answer 'yes' to both of the above questions, you can deduct the cost and upkeep of your work clothes.

The publication goes on to caution, however, that it is not enough to wear 'distinctive' clothing.  And the IRS also addresses protective clothing, like safety shoes.  Let's take a look at a few examples of what would be deductible and what wouldn't.

Mary the Nurse: Tax Deductible
Mary is a 43-year-old nurse.  Her employer, General Hospital, requires that she wears blue or teal scrubs and a white lab coat while she is working.  Because Mary's scrubs aren't suitable to take the place of her regular clothing, the purchase and even laundering and repair of her uniforms is tax deductible.

Paul the Painter: Not Tax Deductible
Paul is a 27-year-old painter.  His boss dictates that all employees should wear a white cap, white t-shirt, blue jeans and work boots.  Because none of Paul's clothing items are considered to be 'distinctive in character' and Paul could ostensibly wear one or more of the items on him time away from work, the purchase and laundering of his work clothing is not tax deductible.

Jane the Assistant Manager: Not Tax Deductible
Jane is a 39-year-old assistant manager in an upscale jewelry store.  Her employer requires her to wear a business suit, hose and high heels to work every day.  Jane is at heart a casual person who does not wear her business suits anywhere other than work.  Still, what she considers her work 'uniforms' are, by the IRS' definition, suitable for taking the place of her regular clothing, and therefore are not tax deductible.

Jose the Crewman: Tax Deductible
Jose is a 19-year-old fishing boat crewman whose employer requires him to wear a heavy, water-resistant jacket with the boat name, stitched across the back.  He also requires Jose to wear skid-resistant safety shoes and heavy-duty work gloves to keep him safe while on deck.  In this case, Jose's jacket, shoes and gloves are all tax deductible, as the IRS classifies them as 'protective' clothing.

Note: All Uniform Wear are uniform experts, not tax specialists, nor do we provide tax or legal advice.  That said, we're providing the information below to give you an overview of how the IRS handles miscellaneous deductions related to clothing and uniforms.  Of course, you should consult your tax advisor for deduction guidance specific to your situation.

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