It’s a question that has torn this nation apart for far too long, dividing families, rending marriages in two, leaving scars that may never heal on the flesh and in the souls of good Americans: Is the Snuggie a blanket that just happens to have sleeves, or is it a garment, like an oversized bathrobe that you wear backwards? While it may not change your deeply felt personal opinion on this matter, a federal court has made its opinion known.
The peacemakers among us have long asked why it matters how one perceives a Snuggie since we all — regardless of our underlying beliefs — use the Snuggie in the same way. (Well, most of us. There are those Snuggie outliers whose purposes are probably best left unmentioned in this account.)
This blanket/garment distinction is important, however, when it comes to how much of an import tariff the Snuggie’s producer — Allstar Marketing — must pay to bring the Snuggies into the country.
Under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS), a blanket requires an 8.5% tariff. However, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) folks had determined that the Snuggies fall under the HTS heading of “Other garments, knitted or crocheted” and are subject to a 14.9% tariff.
Allstar appealed this decision to the CBP but was denied in 2012, so the company sued the U.S. government before the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that CBP had mis-categorized the Snuggie, resulting in the higher import charges.
(Let’s pause for a moment here and enjoy the irony that Allstar was able to have its legal dispute heard in a court of law, but the company uses a little piece of paper stashed inside its Snuggie boxes to strip its customers of this right.
Okay, back to it.)
In a recent ruling [PDF], the court noted that the Snuggie is not the only, or the first, sleeve-blanket hybrid on market, and that Allstar in fact “was inspired by the ‘Slanket’ and the ‘Freedom Blanket.'” The marketing lingo on the Snuggie box even says “The Blanket That Has Sleeves!”
While Snuggie ads show people doing activities they may not necessarily do when wrapped in a plain-old blanket — pouring coffee, playing boardgames — the judge noted that the product is “sold in the ‘bedding, housewares, general merchandise, ‘impulse buy,’ or ‘as-seen-on-TV’ departments of retail stores,’ never in the wearing apparel department.”
Since the HTS does not explicitly define the term “garment,” the court had to consider the word’s common use in commerce, concluding over the government’s objections that “wearing apparel” and “garments” are interchangeable.
And according to the Supreme Court’s 1893 ruling in Arnold v. United States, “wearing apparel” is defined as “all articles which are ordinarily worn — dress in general.”
The government argued that a much more recent ruling by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — Rubie’s Costume v. U.S. — more precisely defined “wearing apparel” as items that provide “decency, comfort, adornment or protection” to the wearer. Thus, they contend the Snuggie is a garment because “it is a covering for the human body that is worn for comfort.”
Allstar countered that simply providing comfort to a wearer is not sufficient to transform an item into a garment. If that were the case, the company argued, everything from sheets to blankets to space heaters would be considered apparel.
The court was also not bowled over by the government’s contention that the Snuggie is not significantly different to garments like “clerical or ecclesiastical garments and vestments” and “professional or scholastic gowns and robes,” ass all of these items “have wide-armed sleeves and flow loosely around the body” like the Snuggie.
“[F]or Defendant’s analogy to hold, at a minimum, one must wear the Snuggie backwards,” explained the court.
The government also argued that Snuggie’s “one size fits all” marketing language implies that the product is a garment, but again the judge was not impressed, noting that “‘fit’ in the context of ‘one size fits all’ is a misnomer, and merely conveys single size availability…. there is nothing ‘fitted’ about the Snuggie. The Snuggie’s physical characteristics and features, such as its dimensions and lack of rear closure, do not resemble a ‘normal article of apparel,’ or an article ‘ordinarily worn” in any ‘commonplace… way.'”
And so it has been decreed for the ages: A Snuggie is a blanket, and not a garment.
We know that won’t stop you from wearing yours when you walk the dog in the morning, or to a job interview, but at least you’ll know how the correct tariff rate for what you’re wearing.