Anietra Hamper thought that if she bought a clothing item specifically for her job as a TV news anchor, then she should be able to deduct it from her taxes. So she kept meticulous records of the $20,000+ dollars she spent every year on business clothing, which included conservative suits, as well as bikinis and thong underwear (part of a well-rounded business wardrobe). If a baseball player can deduct his uniform, she reasoned, why can’t she deduct hers?
The IRS reasoned differently. In order for a clothing item to be deductible, the IRS requires not only that the item be required for employment, and not worn for “general or personal wear,” but also “not suitable” for such wear. Thus even though Ms. Hamper didn’t wear her business clothes during her off hours, she could have, and that makes them not tax deductible.
So what kinds of clothes would satisfy the IRS requirements? Stage costumes are one. The musical group ABBA won a case against the Swedish government (which has rules similar to the IRS’s) by claiming that their futuristic discovomit outfits were unwearable offstage. The group now claims that, not only was the tax deduction a welcome benefit of their eclectic costumes, the deduction was the reason they wore them in the first place.
That is hard to believe. The Swedish government was suing ABBA for an 85m kronor tax payment (nearly 10 million dollars at today’s rates). I don’t know how much of that was due to clothing purchases, but even if it’s only a fraction, each ABBA outfit would be quite costly. Even without the tax-deduction discount, I think they could have found something both more suitable for “general wear” and less expensive. But then that would have ruined the rock star stage show. We’re not talking about dancing plebes here.
The more interesting question is how long the IRS will maintain the fantasy that a business suit can be worn for “general and personal wear.” The Court in Hamper’s case said that the conservative business clothing that she was required to purchase was not “of a fashion that is outrageous or otherwise unsuitable for everyday personal wear.” With these words, the IRS joined menswear forumites and fashion bloggers as the last people in the United States unwilling to concede that wearing a business suit for “everyday personal wear” has become at least a little bit outrageous.
Disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever been, a tax attorney, even in my most baroque nightmares. Nor have I ever been a Swedish rock star. Consult a tax professional for advice relating to your own tax returns.
Quality content, like quality clothing, ages well. This article first appeared on the No Man blog in April 2015.