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So, let’s say we have a character like this:

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Living in a place like this:

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In many post-apocalyptic media, leather jackets and blue jeans are the main form of attire for characters, even ones living in deserts of dry areas. I’m currently building a world, so I’d like to ask: What is a reasonable/logical justification for a character wearing black leather in a dry, arid Wasteland?

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  • $\begingroup$ A quick google search shows up plenty information on the colour and type of clothing in deserts? What did your research result in? lmgtfy.com/?q=why+wear+dark+leather+in+desert%3F $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jun 7 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ I had fun answering this question, but @dot_Sp0T has a point. Our help center explains that questions must be specific and answerable, must include context, must include restrictions/requirements, and should include research. I've always been annoyed by that "should," because SE actually expects a bit'o research. I love this flowchart as a basic guide to downvoting/closing for lack of research. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 7 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ The character is goth... $\endgroup$ – Harper Jun 7 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ To broad? Really? How does this fail the "book test?" People actually believe an entire book would be required to adequately describe all the aspects of black leather and blue jeans? There's really that many reasons black leather and blue jeans would be useful in a desert wasteland? Really? VTR. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 8 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ @DTCooper, Your question lacks research, but I do not believe it violates any rule. Considering the narrow scope of the question, it's not even POB. Downvotable? Maybe. Worthy of closing? Not in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 8 at 14:34

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Why wouldn't someone wear tear-resistant, puncture-resistant, light armor in a desert wasteland?

Deserts do present a problem. For example, we learn...

Because of the climate, very little armor was ever worn in Africa. In Egypt's Old and Middle Kingdom, Egyptian soldiers never wore armor. In the Old Kingdom they are usually depicted wearing only a belt and a small triangular loincloth. During the Middle Kingdom, their apparel was invariably the same short linen kilt as that worn by civilian workmen. Hence, from the late Predynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian soldiers at best only wore an occasional band of webbing across the shoulders and chest.

Sometimes broad leather bands covered part of the torso of charioteers, but generally soldiers are depicted without any body protection. Again the pharaohs were, not surprisingly, the exception. Ramesses II fighting as a charioteer was portrayed wearing scale armor with sleeves, covering the whole torso. The scales were bronze, attached through holes to a skirt. His legs were of course protected by the chariot. However, even he is not always shown wearing armor. It might be presumed that other charioteers who could afford the expensive armor might also have worn it. Yet, even pharaohs, though they almost always are depicted wearing the blue crown, did not always wear armor. For example, portrayals of Seti I clearly show him without any body armor in battle. (Source, emphasis mine.)

It's true that deserts can be cold at night, but only high altitude or polar deserts are cold during the day. Death Valley would be an uncomfortable place to wear a black leather jacket and blue jeans (unless you're Mel Gibson!). But Ramesses II wore bronze scale mail for a reason — getting hurt is inconvenient.

But for some other reasons, let's look at our brothers, the Bedouin. They often wear neck-to-wrist and neck-to-ankle clothing. Why? Because even the darkest skin can burn. While they often wear white clothing, their outer robes are often colored and frequently dark. It may seem counter intuitive, but thick and black is better in a desert.

We have therefore investigated whether black robes help the Bedouins to minimise solar heat loads in a hot desert. This seemed possible because experiments have shown that white hair on cattle and white feathers on pigeons permit greater penetration of short-wave radiation to the skin than black. In fact, more heat flowed inward through white pigeon plumage than through black when both were exposed to simulated solar radiation at wind speeds greater than 3 m/s. We report here that the amount of heat gained by a Bedouin exposed to the hot desert is the same whether he wears a black or a white robe. The additional heat absorbed by the black robe was lost before it reached the skin. (Source)

What researchers discovered is that while black-and-thin makes you hotter, black-and-thick makes you cooler. The black blocks heat better when there's a wind and thicker clothes mean the heat can't penetrate as far, protecting the skin.

Is this magic? Nope. You'll notice the Bedouin clothes are very loose. You still need to wick the sweat off the body and let it evaporate or you boil in your own sauce. That's where the leather jacket is a bit of a turn-off. You'd need at the very least a really good cotton undershirt.

But you're in luck, denim's actually pretty good at wicking away and evaporating sweat.

Conclusion

  1. Avoid cuts and scrapes from living in a region predominantly filled with rocks, sand, and thorny-bitey things.

  2. Avoid real pain from near-unstoppable punk-like-dudes who are desperate to steal your gasoline.

  3. It really does help manage the heat process. It's a trade-off between sunburn and heat-stroke.

And to top it all off, blue jeans and black leather has been the magnet-of-choice for guys since Marlon Brando (before he got fat). Surely there's a date night in your character's future?

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    $\begingroup$ black cloth is very different than black leather, cloth breaths, denim under leather does not. wicking only works if there is someplace for it to go. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 10 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ @John who said the denim was under the leather? I said a cotton undershirt was needed. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 11 at 3:42
  • $\begingroup$ Note that biker leather, the traditional post-apocalypse garnment, offers pretty much zero protection as armor, and in some cases is even worse than nothing. It is often confused with the (very different) leather armor, and Hollywood using cheap nailed biker jackets instead of actual armor-looking props doesn't help. $\endgroup$ – Eth Jun 13 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Eth, the OP asked for a rationalization, not proof that it's good or better than something else. No one in their right mind would wear black leather and denim in a post-apocalyptic wasteland - except Mel Gibson and half the characters in the Fallout series of games. I have no doubt at all that a thousand holes can be poked into my rationalization. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 13 at 14:01
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First, small details - the character absolutely needs some form of headwear. A wide-brimmed hat, a headscarf, keffiyeh - anything to prevent sunstroke and rapid sweat evaporation through the head. Next, there should be a loose long-sleeved shirt under the jacket (even if the jacket itself lacks sleeves) - again, to prevent the evaporation of the sweat.

A lot actually depends on the details. When you say the character lives in the desert, what exactly do you mean? Is there a settlement there he lives in, does he know a couple of waterholes and travels between them? Does he walk on foot or does he have any transport? What does he do for a living?

If your character has any sort of transportation (and can carry water and shelter with him), if he knows the settlements and watering holes, then suboptimal, but survivable clothes like biker jacket and jeans are okay.

The biggest question is where your character gets this clothing. And an answer to this question will beat most other considerations. After all, if there are no other clothes to be had, leather jacket and jeans will do, whatever the conditions.

Such clothes are not the simplest to manufacture in the post-apocalyptic conditions. You need thick and finely tooled cows leather for the jacket, cotton fabric and indigo dye for jeans. Both of those items are also quite complicated in tailoring. If your desert-dwelling people manufacture their clothes, sheep's wool would be more likely.

On the other hand, it's a very common trope for post-apocalyptic settings that a lot of people do nothing but dig through the wreckage of the old world. If your character is one of such people, he could've found such clothes. They are pre-war manufacture, sturdy and hard-wearing. Why wouldn't he wear them?

UPD: in the end, the clothes themselves are not that bad that you need an elaborate justification. The simplest explanations will do: he either likes them and thinks them cool, or actually has nothing better to wear. A bigger question you need to answer for your world to be consistent, is where your character had got those clothes: how long ago did the apocalypse happen, how did they keep - if they are pre-apocalypse, - who has the capability to manufacture these clothes now, including zippers, indigo dye and complicated tailoring - if they are of contemporary manufacture.

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    $\begingroup$ /needs some form of headwear./. I thought that was a wig. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jun 9 at 1:20
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You're either trying to rip off Fallout, or Mad Max (which Fallout also ripped off). In both storylines, radiation was a concern.

Leather offers great protection against alpha radiation, which is emitted by radioactive materials decaying. It offers better protection against beta radiation than if you were naked, but scary beta radiation sources are rare if you don't have active reactors around anyway.

So use a leather jacket to protect your torso against alpha particles and live a little longer. This is completely useless if you ingest radioactive material, though, so don't forget to check your food, water and drugs with a geiger counter.

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    $\begingroup$ In which case, lederhosen would probably be a better bet than denim jeans! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 10 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ Skin is a good protection against alpha radiation. If there's lots of long-lived alpha-generating fallout about, wear goggles and a dust filter over your breathing holes. Don't drink the water, don't eat the food, and make sure to clean yourself off when you get back home. Beta radiation sources can be avoided in the same way, except physical contact with beta emitters can be dangerous so just cover yourself up a bit better than Lord Humungus and you'll be fine. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jun 10 at 12:49
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Lack of new textiles is the key here.

After the fall of civilization, there will not be a lot of people making new cloths. For starters, lighter fabrics will wear out more quickly meaning that things like leather and denim may be the last "old world" clothes you have left that have not completely fallen apart. Especially in a desert where such things are the last clothes you wear often.

As for the new clothes that are being made, the high thread count polyester and cotton stuff we are accustomed to will be too labor intensive and inaccessible without proper factories and fertile farmlands. Leather can be made from the wild animals you hunt much more easily than anything you can weave; so, it's prone to be a popular material. Any fabric that is woven will probably be a low thread count wool similar to denim or burlap that will need to be hand made on loom.

That said, without a good source of dyes, new fabrics and leathers will all start to be left their natural hues making your old biker gangs slowly start to look more and more like great plains indians.

In summary, to justify that look, your character will need to be around shortly enough after the apocalypse that old world clothing is still available, but long enough that all the nice summer wear has already been worn out.

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That is all the clothes anyone wore before the apocalypse.

pride leathers https://confidentials.com/manchester/manchester-pride-2015-mr-leather-corrie-sir-ian-mckellen

Fashions change. Pre-apocalypse, fashions had become such that the only clothes available outside of niche markets were leather jackets and leather pants and maybe blue jeans. That is what everyone wore everywhere. After the apocalypse, survivors would wear what they wore before: leather and denim (or leather and leather; don't forget that one too!). Tough and sexy pre and post apocalypse! Scrounging for clothes would probably turn up what was in everyone else's closet and all the stores: leather.

Let's just forget about the blue jeans too: it is all leather. Vat-grown skin tight shimmering naugahyde leather. Maybe some denim Daisy Dukes to be worn as underwear.

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It's the Post-Pockyclypse! The only people likely to be out in the desert when the proverbial sh!t hits the fan is motorcycle gangs and motorcycle gang wannabes. These are the people who will shortly become the proto-roadwarriors. And also an assortment of random civilians on their way somewhere else at the time. (These are also known as food and fuel sources.)

Since the ladies and gents belonging to motorcycle associations already wear leather and denim, it stands to reason they are not going to change clothes simply because the civilisations on the outskirts of their world have collapsed.

Justification(s):

  • Sudden lack of clothing supplies, on account of the nearest Walmart has been nuked along with the city it was in
  • evolution of priorities, because now, basics like food & water & fuel will become the three things worth fighting for
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First, deserts are not hot... especially at night, the temperatures are very cold, even in hot deserts. To survive in the wilderness, you would want to travel at night, when it is cooler, to avoid dehydration better and for comfort. Another benefit of leather is that it protects against abrasions and wind damage, which is why the material is associated with Cowboys, Early Aviotors (open cock pit planes), and Motorcycle riders. In fact, with the latter, the reason why the Happy Days character Fonzy ('Eeeeeey) was always scene just about to ride his motorcycle or having just stopped riding his motorcycle is because in the early years of the show, an exec at the network though the trade mark leather jacket was making Fonz to be a punk and didn't want it. The lead show writers pointed out that it was legitament safety equipment for someone who rode a bike and the exec yielded so that the Fonz could have it if the scene placed him on the motorcycle... the head writer then gave his staff a memo saying that there should be no scene where Fonzy was not riding, about to ride, or just stopped riding his motorcycle. In a possibly high wind, high sand, environment where the mode of transportation could be horses or motorcycles (usually the later, given your character image) a leather jacket would be prized as it could keep the character safe from skid abrasion if he was to fall off his bike.

Denim (Jeans) like leather were working clothing. The fabric was tough and was less prone to tearing than other fabrics in work clothing, which were great for outdoors men who could ruin a pair of pants snagging it on a branch or bramble, but could tear away if caught in heavy machinery. They offered similar protections as leather and when working in desert environments, they could also serve a decent protection against snake bits and similar... In your setting, not only are they tough, comfortable, but the popularity among both working class and in casual fashion mean they're common. While not as protective again the cold, they can handle in cool a climes, which your typical hot desert will likely reduce to at night, and they breath well enough that you they are pretty decent as the the temperature rises. They're common nature means they're a dime a dozen in a world where you're charged by the sip for water, and you don't need that many pair to maintain reliable dress. They are also fairly water resistant, in case you have to jump in that rushing river and suffer from very little water damage so long as you can dry them. Dock workers and sailors could make this resistance much better by coating the material in tar, at the sake of of more susceptibility to heat.

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  • $\begingroup$ Denim is terrible when wet, though I guess that's not an issue in the classic post apocalyptic desert. More of a problem is how you replace it. Various colours and flavours of animal (or in a pinch, people) can provide you with leather; cotton might be quite a lot harder to come by. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jun 7 at 21:08
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There are three main reasons behind clothing choices in a desert: Temperature, camouflage, and availability.

First of all, temperature. There are two types of desert: hot deserts and cold deserts. Hot deserts have very high temperatures during the day because there is little humidity to block the sunlight. For the same reason, they cannot keep the hot air after the sun has gone, so temperatures can drop to -5 degrees Celsius. The temperatures of cold deserts in winter often fall to -80 degrees Celsius, and in summer rise only to 15 degrees Celsius. If your desert is a cold desert, than black clothing would make perfect sense to absorb as much heat as possible.

Next, camouflage. Most deserts have mainly red, yellow or white themes. But if you were willing to change things up a bit, you might introduce black/brownish-black rocks or boulders as common. This would make wearing black almost a necessity for camouflage.

Finally, availability. People tend to wear whatever is easiest to get. If you have herds of animals wandering around in the desert that just happen to have naturally black hides, black leather will become an everyday sight. (Leather can also be dyed black, but to make black leather most common, it should be as easy as possible to get.)

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for suggesting that it's a cold desert. If it's a post-apocalyptic setting there's a good chance that the desert formed for apocalypse-related reasons and not because of the region's natural temperature, which means it could very easily be cold or temperate. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix yesterday
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I think people are tearing this question apart, rather than giving it a solid answer.

As for justification for the use of this attire, I think it is rather simple. In a post apocalyptic world, I think it would be reasonable to say that most people don't know a tailor. That being said, you would wear whatever you could find. In today's society, some of the longest lasting clothes are denim jeans, and real cowhide leather. These would have a stronger resistance to tearing and a longer "life-expectancy". It isn't crazy to say that this most likely would a normal form of clothes that could survive an apocalyptic event. Unless you knew how to make clothes from desert plants and animals, what you could find would be what you would use.

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By a combination of chance events, the apocalypse left parts of an outlet center relatively unscathed. Two shops in particular, dealing in jeans and leather jackets, were spared. Everything else for miles around (except presumably the gun shop - any good post-apocalyptic scenario will likely need one of those) was destroyed.

So the characters don't choose to wear jeans and jacket - those are the only clothes available.

Your characters should thank their lucky stars that the only shop spared wasn't the retro lycra and jazzercise outlet store

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