Are my riding clothes a business expense?

Quite often people ask me if their riding clothes qualify as a business expense.  Usually what they’re really trying to ask is whether they can deduct those clothes as an expense on their business tax return.

The short answer is ‘it depends’.  Not very helpful, I know.  So here’s a longer answer.

The IRS has two conditions for being able to deduct the cost of work clothes as a business expense:

  • The clothing is not suitable for ordinary wear
  • The clothing is required for the job

There’s also a special provision for protective clothing and equipment required on the job.

So how does this apply to riding clothes?   English riders fare better under this rule than western folks.

Not suitable for ordinary wear:

Tall riding boots, breeches, and show coats are reasonable examples of ‘special purpose clothing’.   But riding shirts don’t—they are not enough different from regular casual shirts.  If your barn dress code is paddock boots and half chaps for schooling, the half chaps qualify.  Paddock boots can go with jeans for a casual look so they don’t.  Helmets, riding gloves, and body protectors qualify as protective equipment.

Bad news on the western front—jeans are definitely ‘ordinary’ attire.  Ditto cowboy hats and boots.  Not deductible.  Most western shirts are going to fall into the ‘streetwear’ category—if it wouldn’t stand out at a bar called The Barn, it’s not deductible.  If you bought a new pair of chaps, though, you’re in luck—they qualify as special purpose clothing.

Required for the job:

If you’re the employee, this one is easy—the boss says you must wear this or you’re fired.

If you’re the business owner, then you get to make the dress code.  Just remember that what you require needs to be the same for anyone doing comparable work.  An example would be breeches and tall boots required for any staff member riding a client horse (including you).

As the owner, you can also require your staff to wear “uniforms”, such as a shirt or jacket with the business name & logo.   These should be different from the “promotional” clothing you give or sell to clients or others.   (If that seems strange, compare to the mechanic that the IRS is used to—he gives “I love my mechanic” tee shirts to clients and provides blue shirts with name patches to his employees.)

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