By Kali Kaufman

Classifying apparel correctly is essential for importers, as it determines the appropriate duties and regulations that apply.  The Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) provides a standardized system for classifying apparel.  However, the chapters for apparel are long and can be confusing.  Here are five important things to know about classifying apparel using the HTSUS.

1.  Consider material composition

The fabric composition of an apparel item is a crucial factor in classification. Whether it’s cotton, wool, synthetic fibers, blends, or other materials, the composition influences the applicable tariff code. To accurately classify the garment, carefully examine the material composition and consult the HTSUS to find the relevant code.

Many garments today are made up of a mixture of two or more textile materials.  For example, a garment might be 70% cotton and 30% polyester. Generally, a garment will be classified according to the fiber that is in “chief weight” or the predominant fiber in terms of weight. However, garments composed of 50/50 blends are classified according to the textile material which occurs last in numerical order.

There are also garments which may consist of multiple components, such as a jacket with a woven exterior and knit lining. In these cases, the component which gives the garment its “essential character” determines the classification. The “essential character” of a garment is determined by a variety of factors, including the nature of the material, the value, quantity, and weight, and the role of the material in how the garment will be used.

2.  Remember gender and age categories

Much of the classification for apparel considers the intended gender and age group of a particular garment.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has provided some guidelines on how to determine the gender-specific classification of garments.  For example, if a garment closes left over right, it’s considered to be for men or boys.  Garments that close right over left are intended to be for women or girls.  However, this rule does not apply if the cut of the garment indicates it’s intended for the other sex.  Case in point:  a button-down shirt that closes left over right but has darting that allows for a woman’s bust is classified as a women’s blouse, not a men’s shirt.  So, the cut of a garment will always take precedence in determining its gender classification.

In cases where a garment cannot be identified as either men’s or boys’ garments or as women’s or girls’ garments, the HTSUS directs that such garments be classified in the headings covering women’s or girls’ garments. This ensures consistent classification of garments that do not clearly fall into a specific gender category.

3.  Style and functionality matter

We all know that style matters on the runway, but it also comes into play when determining a classification.  Be sure to look at the style and functionality of a garment as part of the classification process.

One example of how functionality can impact the classification of a garments is the category of “recreational performance outerwear.”  This category refers to a range of garments used for various outdoor activities, including ski and snowboard jackets and pants, snow coveralls, and windbreakers. To qualify as recreational performance outerwear, these items must be water-resistant (which is its whole own area of classification) and they must exhibit five or more of the following features:

  1. Insulated for cold weather protection
  2. Multiple pockets, at least one of which has a zippered, hook and loop, or other type of closure
  3. Elastic, draw cord, or other means of tightening around the waist or leg hems, including hidden leg sleeves with a means of tightening at the ankle for trousers and tightening around the waist or bottom hem for jackets.
  4. Venting (excluding grommets)
  5. Articulated elbows or knees
  6. Reinforcement in specific areas such as elbows, shoulders, seat, knees, ankles, or cuffs
  7. Weatherproof closure at the waist or front
  8. Multi-adjustable hood or adjustable collar
  9. Adjustable powder skirt, inner protective skirt, or adjustable inner protective cuff at the sleeve hem
  10. Construction at the arm gusset that allows radial arm movement through fabric, design, or patterning; or
  11. Odor control technology

It’s important to note that recreational performance outerwear specifically excludes occupational outerwear. Therefore, garments primarily designed for occupational purposes do not fall within the recreational performance outerwear category.

4.  Pay attention to special features and embellishments

T-shirts are a staple of many wardrobes, but their classification under the HTSUS depends on specific features.  Many of these garments possess decorative elements such as appliques, embroidery, or other adornments which will end up precluding their classification as a “t-shirt.”

T-shirts under the HTSUS typically have a crew, round, or mitered neckline and have either no pockets or a single chest pocket.  Further, they may be dyed or made from screen-printed fabric, but having even small appliques, embroiders, labels, or heat transfers takes them out of the “t-shirt” classification and places them under either the “similar garments” (in 6109 or 6111) or “pullovers” (in 6110).

5.  Understand sleepwear

Classification of sleepwear versus loungewear is an important distinction for importers in today’s fashion climate. The physical characteristics of the garment must be carefully considered to determine if the garment qualifies as sleepwear under 6107, 6108, 6207, and 6208. Sleepwear is characterized by its association with private activities or a sense of privacy.  On the other hand, loungewear is usually loose, comfortable clothing that could be worn during informal social occasions, like a quick run to the store, walking the dog, or even having guests over.

While CBP will consider advertising and marketing strategies and supporting documentation, they cannot be solely relied upon for classification of sleepwear. Sleepwear is often of thinner fabrics that drape closer to the body which would not be appropriate for wear outside the home.

If the garment would be considered loungewear rather than sleepwear, it will not be classified as sleepwear, but rather in the specific heading relevant to the named article: i.e., loungewear shorts would be classified under the appropriate heading for shorts.

Accurate classification of apparel using the HTSUS is crucial for ensuring compliance with customs regulations and facilitating international trade. By considering factors such as material composition, gender and age categories, style and functionality, and special features, importers and exporters can correctly identify the appropriate tariff codes for their garments.

However, due to the complexities involved, it is recommended to seek professional expertise. If you have questions regarding the classification of apparel, please contact Export Solutions for a no-charge consultation today.

Kali Kaufman is a Classification Specialist for Export Solutions -- a full-service consulting firm specializing in U.S. import and export regulations.