Tax Deductions for Work Attire

If the armed forces paid for your uniform, you're not entitled to a tax deduction.

nato uniform image by Andrey Kiselev from

Buck Wolf, writing for ABC News, marveled at the deductions requested by taxpayers when he researched a story on the topic. Some felt gym memberships qualified as medical deductions. Others wanted to take pets as dependents. The Internal Revenue Service said no to both. However, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to claim your work attire when you file.

Basic IRS Rules

Many Internal Revenue Service guidelines can be difficult to understand, but when it comes to the topic of work attire deductions, the IRS code couldn’t be clearer. To meet the IRS standard, your garments must meet two criteria: they must be “specifically required by your employer” as a condition of employment and they must “not be suitable for taking the place of your regular clothing.” Your ability to tailor your clothing tax deductions to these definitions can mean the difference between sanctioned write-offs and rejections.

Types of Attire

Many uniforms may fall under the umbrella of attire required as a condition of employment. Whether you’re a nurse, firefighter or postal employee, if you have to buy clothing to do your job--and the clothing isn't appropriate off the job--you can probably get a write-off. Other types of career clothing aren’t as absolute. For example, suppose you’re a performer buying formal wear to do your job. Gowns and tuxedos can be perfectly suitable to wear when you’re not working -- it's a gray area -- so the deduction may not be allowed. Regardless of what you're required to wear, a corporate logo can be a game changer. Transform a street-appropriate garment with a logo and your chances of getting a deduction improve dramatically.

Beyond Clothing

If you’re lucky enough to wear clothing covered by an IRS tax deduction and the garments can be tossed into a washing machine and dried without damaging the fabric, the cost of the clothing represents the limit of your tax deduction. But if you’re required to dry-clean the clothing or have it mended, you can write off these expenses in addition to the cost of the garments themselves. Additionally, the IRS also allows write-offs for the purchase, cleaning and repair of “accessories,” so if you must wear gloves or hats to do your job, add them to the list.

Unique Circumstances

If you believe that protective clothing required to undertake dangerous tasks on a job site is deductible--for example, safety glasses, a hardhat or an asbestos jumpsuit--especially if these items are required by your union to perform job tasks, you are probably right. The situation is more complex, however, if you serve in the military. If you’re on active duty, you can’t deduct the purchase, cleaning and maintenance of your uniforms since these garments are standard issue, paid for by the armed forces. If you're a reservist, the rules change. You can deduct “the unreimbursed cost of your uniform if military regulations restrict you from wearing it except while on duty,” so make sure you retain receipts for these garments and accessories.

Read The Tax Code

Understanding the definition of deductible work attire is the key to avoiding an audit. If you can adapt work clothing for everyday wear, it stands little chance of passing muster with the IRS. Number 28 of the Miscellaneous Deductions section on the IRS website provides a more detailed explanation of the tax code. If you’re still confused, consult the IRS. Don’t follow in the footsteps of TV anchors if your situation is murky. One broadcaster paid a huge penalty for taking taking liberties with her wardrobe deductions. Perhaps she should have had the TV station’s call letters embroidered onto her garments before she filed her taxes. That logo could have been her ticket to write-offs.