April 6, 2011 12:00 am

News Anchor Can’t Deduct Onscreen Clothing

An employee can deduct as a miscellaneous itemized expense the cost of unreimbursed job-related expenses. One type of expense is work clothes. However, it has been a long-established rule that only clothing not suited for personal use can be deductible. Thus, a doctor’s scrubs are deductible, but a lawyer’s suits are not.

In one recent case, a television news anchor in Ohio spent on average $20,000 a year for a wardrobe that complied with the station’s on-air women’s wardrobe guidelines. She also spent money on contact lenses to read a teleprompter, hair and makeup, teeth whitening, and other personal grooming items.

The Tax Court said that none of her expenses were deductible. The rules for determining whether the cost of clothing is deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense are:

  1. The clothing is required or essential in a taxpayer’s employment.
  2. The clothing is not suitable for general or personal wear.
  3. The clothing is not worn for general or personal wear but only on the job.

The court pointed out that costs are not deductible even when it can be shown that the particular clothes would not have been purchased but for the employment.

To add insult to injury, the court agreed with the IRS to impose accuracy-related penalties for the taxes owed due to the erroneous deductions. She argued that the penalties should not be imposed because she believed them to be deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense. The court rejected her argument; the tax rules about work clothes are well settled.

Source: Anietra Hamper, TC Summary Opinion 2011-11


Tax Glossary

Qualifying widow or widower

A filing status entitling the taxpayer with dependents to use joint tax rates for up to two tax years after the death of a spouse.

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