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HMRC internal manual

VAT Clothing

HM Revenue & Customs
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How to decide if the article is clothing: Does the article fulfil the function of clothing?

To have a function as clothing, an article must to some extent provide cover for the body, either for decency or as protection from the elements (e.g. to keep the wearer warm). An article may be primarily decorative - but it will still have these same basic characteristics. Bear in mind that a garment could be designed primarily for another purpose, but could also fulfil a clothing function, and thus qualify for zero-rating.

A few articles, although purely decorative, are traditionally accepted as items of clothing, even though they may no longer have any significant ‘clothing’ function. A tie, for example, has no function other than an ornamental one, but ties have been an accepted part of men’s clothing for so long that we accept them as articles of clothing rather than accessories. Young boys’ ties and ‘ bows -ties’ are therefore eligible for zero-rating under Item 1, subject to the design and suitability tests. Similarly, we accept that belts, braces and garters qualify as clothing.

However, we have ruled that sashes, (for example for Brownie uniforms), are not clothing. They may superficially resemble a belt, but they do not fulfil the functions of that garment and their only real purpose is to provide a convenient and attractive background for the display of badges. A similar ruling was given in relation to the Red Cross uniform ‘Junior Brassard’, which was superficially like a garter but was actually again a means of displaying badges.