In Actor Speak
Too often these areas incur the greatest abuse from actors seeking deductions based upon misguided information. Unfortunately the short but specific paragraphs (in the opposite column) written by the IRS define their position succinctly.
Actors may complain, "But we're special--We have to stay in shape and look nice!"
Sadly that perspective isn't valid in the "real" world. The lady who works at the bank or the salesman who needs to dress well must go out of their way to look just as nice, wear the proper clothes and stay in shape as any actor for a role. That's how they, too, will achieve greater success in their line of work. It is just as important for a bank Vice President to "maintain an image" as it is for you to match your headshot. You are both trying to sell a successful image in your fields.
As a result, actors are not given special consideration despite their arguments. Unless the actual employer, usually the producer, has specifically demanded that you incur expenses out of the norm for your lifestyle, you will almost always lose those deductions.
Only if the producer (and it is the producer who is your employer—NOT your agent) demands that you get into shape, or demands that you take special Martial Arts classes or demands that you change the color of your hair AND that you pay for these costs (or they are included in your taxable salary) can you deduct them.
As the highlighted line under Wardrobe indicates, there is no allowance just because you have purchased "special" clothes that you may choose to wear only for auditions. If they CAN be worn on the street as "normal" clothing, you cannot take a deduction for them.
"Costumes" are another matter. Many performers have doctors or nurses outfits, police uniforms or the like because they are frequently called upon to audition for those types of roles, particularly for commercials. This type of clothing is deductible because you would not normally own them AND they would not be normally worn on the street.
We are periodically challenged by our clients who feel we are too conservative about these areas. Somewhere, someone told them that they "got away with the expenses" during an audit. It may have even been their own audit. Regardless, the information we are presenting here is direct from the IRS and states their position quite accurately. While it is possible that an auditor let something pass during the examination, we would never suggest you count on that happening at your next one.
In the Words of the IRS:
"Entertainers have been known to make a convincing argument about how much they have to spend to "stay on top" or keep current; nevertheless, most of these items typically overlap too much with personal expenses to constitute business deductions."
"Appearance and Image"
Taxpayers in the entertainment industry sometimes incur unusually high expenses to maintain an image. These expenses are frequently related to the individual's appearance in the form of clothing, make-up, and physical fitness. Other expenses in this area include bodyguards and limousines. These are generally found to be personal expenses as the inherently personal nature of the expense and the personal benefit far outweigh any potential business benefit.
No deduction is allowed for wardrobe, general make-up, or hair styles for auditions, job interviews or "to maintain an image."
Make-up for performances is usually provided by the studio. Stage make-up that the taxpayer buys for an audition or a live theatrical performance may be deductible, if it is not a general over-the-counter product.
To deduct clothes as a business expense, two requirements must be met. First, the clothes must be required by the employer. Second, clothes must not be adaptable to street or general use.
Expenses for costumes and "period" clothing are generally deductible. However, most union contracts provide for compensation to be given performers who require special wear. The taxpayer must prove that his or her contract did not include such reimbursement for the expense to be allowable.
Deductions for general physical fitness are not allowable. Usually, if physical fitness is required of a specific job, the studio will provide the cost. If the taxpayer was employed in a capacity that required physical conditioning, allow expenses for the duration of employment if no reimbursement or compensation was available.