Yesterday the New York Times published a bombshell story based on more than two decades of Donald Trump’s taxes, and it wasn’t pretty. The president is sitting in the middle of a tangled web of dubiously legal tax avoidance strategies, his business are bleeding money, and he faces potential financial ruin if he loses the upcoming election. One particularly astounding figure buried within the documents has been a major source of bugged-out eyes: Trump deducted $70,000 of hair styling expenses during his time on The Apprentice.
The first question that comes to mind is how his hair could possibly be getting that much upkeep. Maybe jokes about Trump’s hair haven’t been funny since before the last election—but you have to chuckle a bit at the idea of spending new Porsche money for that.
The second, though, is more of a thinker: can you really get a tax deduction for a haircut? The answer, actually, is yes. Sort of. The overall sketchiness of Trump’s situation aside, write-offs for appearance-related expenses are pretty common in the entertainment industry—as long as it falls under what the IRS would consider an “ordinary and necessary” business expense.
GQ spoke with Kristin Lee, a high-end Hollywood accountant, who said she would barely bat an eye at a salon write-off. Lee, who had not heard this tidbit until we called, was dumbfounded by the sheer amount of the expense but not too surprised that it existed.
“If my clients are going to a premiere or a film screening, shooting a music video, or making some other public appearance,” she said, “those things require them to be well groomed. And that can definitely run $1,000 a pop.” She says anyone who needs to appear in public—from reality TV hosts to motivational speakers—can legitimately write off hairstyling.
Lee says people with interesting jobs often have correspondingly interesting expenses to write off. Managers, publicists, and other entertainment execs typically get their Spotify and Netflix accounts deducted. She argues that the Kardashians could feasibly write off anything that makes them look nice in public, since they likely make money every time they step outside. One of her clients is even writing off his subscription to OnlyFans, where he’s apparently been scouting models for his clothing brand. But, she clarified, she has to be ready to sit down with the IRS and confidently explain how the expense is related to her client’s work.
On the other hand, Christine Giovetti, an accountant whose clients tend slightly less glamorous, told me that she’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to write off a haircut. “If you were self-employed and an engagement required a certain look, I suppose maybe it’s possible,” she said.
All of this gets at a larger question of how to interpret Trump’s tax bombshell: is he uniquely awful, or is he just laying bare the unfair ways the system functions? In the case of his hair-care write-offs, it seems like it’s mostly the latter. In other words, if you’re an aspiring influencer, make sure you get a receipt next time you’re at the salon.