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For complicated reasons I won't get into, I am trying to create a setting where full-body protective clothing at nearly all times is the norm.

There are numerous post-apocalyptic scenarios where going outside would require protective such outfits, but that is exactly my point, if you can see what I mean: Living in sealed environments and only going outside when absolutely needed would seem to always be easier than wearing full-body protective outfits for nearly all day-to-day tasks.

Under what situation is a genuine environmental hazard more easily and/or effectively addressed by constant full-body protective clothing than by simply staying indoors in protected structures?

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  • $\begingroup$ Alan Dean Foster answered this in his book 'Sentenced to Prism' in the first couple chapters. $\endgroup$
    – hildred
    Commented May 20 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ Not an answer, but for anyone who wants to expand on this: we don't take our skin off ever, and technically it's a full-body protective suit. We regularly take our clothes off in order to maintain our skin, for psychological reasons, hygiene, etc. So something here would need to change to invalidate the conventional solution of specialised buildings. $\endgroup$ Commented May 21 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ Just a quick thought: the habitats have UV lamps always on to deter mold/bacteria. Since the UV is harmful to the skin, people have to wear covering clothing. $\endgroup$
    – legolegs
    Commented May 22 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ In what situation: everywhere humans set foot, everywhen util the 1st habitat within walking distance is sealed. If there are teams of specialized habitat diggers in your world, their whole lifespan fits within this time window. $\endgroup$ Commented May 27 at 15:34

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The problem really is one of convenience. We wear environmental clothes to manage unpleasant or dangerous environments - whether that's extreme cold or just rain. We always take those clothes off when we no longer are in the environment because we don't want to wear a bulky raincoat around the house.

So, you either make the environment pervasive, or you make the clothes so convenient to wear there's no point in taking them off.

The former - usually something in the air that cannot be filtered and the suit requires a recycling closed-loop system. This isn't the best option as any base could be considered a "very big suit".

So the latter option sounds preferable. Imagine a skin-tight suit that contained quality-of-life features that meant you only took it off if you really needed to, and 99% of the time that was never. Think of it less like a protective spacesuit and more an apple iSuit that everyone wants to wear all the time for all the convenience features it might bring.

A third option is to make it so it cannot be taken off. Imagine a hostile environment where you need a power armour, but instead of a walk-in gundam type thing, instead you are surgically attached to it and it envelops you and provides fancy life support. you say in it for the duration of whatever dangerous and toxic tour of duty you signed up to until you get surgically released back in civilisaton.

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Building giant bunkers is expensive. Living in giant bunkers is expensive in opportunity costs of all the fun things you could be doing outside of the bunker, all the practical things that are easier to do outside of the bunker, and all the resources that are outside but not inside. Protective clothing is (or can be) cheap and easy.

On Earth, the most common severe environmental hazard is cold. People spend lots of time outdoors in extreme cold wearing full-body protective clothing, for work and play.

Other examples include:

  • Sunny, with a chance of bullets. For various reasons, infantry often have to get out of their nice bulletproof fortifications, relying on the inferior protection of body armor and stealth.

  • Really, really sunny. Again, you could build a giant climate controlled bunker, but that's expensive and wearing full-body protection - light, airy clothing over most or all of your body, a big hat, and a set of sunglasses - is cheap.

  • Sexist, with a chance of flogging. Chauvinism is a kind of weather, right? You could just stay inside all day and have servants do everything that would require you to go outside, but that's expensive. Put on your burqa and live your life.

  • Bees, with a chance of more bees. Just another day at work at the beehive farm.

  • Itchy, with a chance of malaria. Light, airy clothing, gloves, and mosquito netting for your face and neck, are cheap. Building a bug-proof tent tunnel across the jungle is expensive.

I'm certain that if we had cheap, safe, reliable, comfortable space suits, cheap, reliable, and easy-to-use airlocks, and expensive, space-restricted moon bases with enough people for a basketball game, people would go out to the surface of the moon to play Moon Basketball.


If what's desired is a circumstance that requires protective clothing even when indoors, we need to make it prohibitively expensive (in resources and opportunity costs) to build an adequately protective closed environment in the first place. Mosquito netting makes a good example - it's cost-effective to put it over a bed or drape it from a hat, but if you can't get air conditioning and it's oppressively hot, putting netting over all the windows isn't just expensive, it prevents adequate airflow to keep cool. Likewise if it's very cold and a heated structure isn't an option, you probably need to cover your whole body in clothes or blankets to sleep.

Ultimately, the distinction between clothing and shelter is artificial. Clothing is just shelter that's small and light enough that you can pick it up and carry it with you without getting out of it. All that matters is how much each kind of shelter costs in resources, what you have to give up to get it, and what you have to give up to keep whatever will hurt you out of it.

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    $\begingroup$ The question is under what circumstances would people wear protective gear all the time rather than living in a controlled environment and putting on protective gear when necessary. (If you're familiar with Mass Effect, the OP wants a justification for having Quarians, who are always in their environment suits except for medical procedures.) So your examples don't answer the question - at a minimum, no one in the above examples is sleeping in protective gear and none of it is sealed to require special provisions to eat and excrete. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 I don't get that implication from the question, but I'll add an addendum for it. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Commented May 19 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ It's almost like most of us don't live in environments were going butt naked is appropriate, and we need to wear some sort of protective covering all the time when outside our buildings with their controlled environments, who'd have thunk it. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented May 20 at 10:58
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Frame Challenge

You want an external hazard that requires special clothing to protect the wearer from it, at all times - but can't be addressed by building a special building...

What if the Hazard wasn't External, but Internal?

Imagine a scenario where the people through (insert story justification) secrete a toxic chemical from their skin - it's toxic to breath in? Maybe have it related to Puberty so that newborns don't kill themselves by secreting it or have that children are immune to the effects.

Anyways - the key point is - by having the threat being generated from the skin of the individual (or maybe certain glands/areas - Armpits/Groin etc.) then that necessitates that the individuals always wear a protective suit:

Not to keep the hazard out, but to keep the hazard in.

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    $\begingroup$ one option: Humans colonize another planet which already has life on it. The alien life is extremely allergic to terran life, and extremely vulnerable to terran bacteria and viruses, to the point that any "infection" (like a microscopic droplet of human mucus landing on an alien plant) can cause miles of biosphere to be contaminated, and the only solution then is to firebomb the whole area to glass, lest it would infect the entire biosphere. $\endgroup$ Commented May 20 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ @GoingDurden Heck, it's fully plausible that "Terran microorganisms are extremely invasive species." (without the infection/toxic/allergic angle) is more than enough of a reason to suit up if the Earth folks are even remotely worried about destroying local ecosystems (whether that be for "scientists studying pristine ecosystems" reasons, or "don't want to get Space-Fined for Space-Littering" reasons). $\endgroup$
    – DotCounter
    Commented May 20 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ Hah, I can recall reading a short (?) story 3-4 decades ago with exactly this toxic skin issue; it lead to regular accidents in that culture because the toxic secretion started in puberty and was hard to predict; so sometimes they noticed too late and didn't have the suits ready. I wonder if the author was a parent... :) $\endgroup$
    – AnoE
    Commented May 21 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @DotCounter: Note that planetary protection is already a thing in real life. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Commented May 22 at 17:42
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You are in a minority.

You are of Species B, and you are living in a settlement built by species A. The environment has the air, water, temperature, radiation and biohazard levels set for their species. Those are not suitable for you, some things that are safe for them would kill you. You can't have your own sealed environment for Species B, because there aren't enough of you for it to be worth it. (Instead of being a different species you could instead be very immunocompromised).

Two ways occur of making it more extreme:

(1) The United Nations, but in Spaaace. Face to [anatomical part like a face] meetings are taking place and every ambassador and delegate needs to be in an environment suit of some kind. Because no two species can share the same air.

(2) A hundred arks with a hundred plagues. After some kind of apocalyptic asteroid impact people survive in various bunkers or protected environments. They stay in radio contact with one another, and after a few thousand years the surface cools down enough that it is safe to go out. However, remembering the history of smallpox and the dangers posed by re-introducing long separated populations the people from each bunker are worried about infecting one another with novel infections. So they decide to go about building cities together on the surface with everyone from the different bunkers wearing suits to prevent infection in either direction.

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Looking at the other answers, I decided to try for environments where permanent buildings are not viable.

Worms

Yes, call it a rip off of Dune or the Mandalorian but giant creatures that regularly travel just under the surface in packs will routinely destroy foundations or uproot all structures. Providing they don't eat your people then whatever random natural hazard (radiation, heat etc) you need a protective suit for makes a lot more sense when your people can only live in limited protection easily erected tents.

Same again but not worms

Try an area with a lot of earthquake/volcanic activity. Basically the same problem as the worms scenario but you would also need to choose a reason for a protective suit.

A nomadic sweet spot

If you need a reason to live here then this planet has a flowering plant that produces unobtanium in droves but is close to the local star with a very slow rotation, let's say 3km (2 miles)/24 hours. As such, this essentially means a side so scorchingly hot that the floor is lava and a near absolute zero side in permanent darkness. However, there is a sliver of land a few miles wide in a permanent dusk/dawn phase where the environment is bearable and unobtanium can easily be harvested. This dawn/dusk sliver of land ranges from a few degrees K (-260C) as you approach the night side to a few thousand degrees K (1830C) as you approach the day side.

Given this slow rotation, any bases built will become progressively further and further away from the unobtanium until either they are liquified by the sun or frozen on the night side.

A solution could be achieved with mobile bases but given the sensitive nature of the unobtanium plants, it requires careful dexterous operations by an operative trained in the care and harvesting of unobtanium to successfully harvest the most possible without killing off the plant's reproductive cycle and thus destroying the supply. For example, make the flowers only open when the plant senses a lifeform nearby. Raw unobtanium could be toxic to human life, so protection suits at all times make sense from both the planetary factors and the toxicity factors.

Another way to prevent mobile bases could be for the ground (lava) leaving the hot side of the planet to set in comparatively steep, fragile slopes that are impossible for anything bigger than a modern 4x4 to navigate easily especially given the risk of them collapsing under large weights. Nobody wants to live in their car permanently, so tents and suits make sense.

A different nomadic sweet spot

Slightly less drastic than above but a slowly rotating water world. Huge carnivorous beasties terrorise the daylight oceans but the night side freezes to only -20C or so (cold enough to freeze salt water). People live on the night side, much like eskimos but with the nomadic requirement to avoid the dawn as that spells thawing ice and being eaten. Yes, you can build igloos but they are temporary accomodation at best as they will slowly rotate into the daylight side and melt.

Food can be fish etc living under the ice. Water from melting snow (yes, it snows on the cold side). Your protective clothing would be generic warm clothing unless you wanted to factor in something else such as toxic gas or radiation.

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  • $\begingroup$ "giant creatures that regularly travel just under the surface in packs will routinely destroy foundations or uproot all structures." Also, Harkonnens. $\endgroup$ Commented May 22 at 3:01
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RELIGION.

The protective suits might be a cultural remnant of something major that shifted the entire culture.

Consider:

  1. I million colonists on board of a sleeper ship are sent to colonize a planet, one that is only a little bit Earth-like, and still quite deadly without a suit or being inside a habitat.
  2. When they arrive, the planet turns out to be already inhabited: a different, faster ship arrived there decades earlier.
  3. The existing Colonists deny the Sleepers (those who arrived by sleeper ship) the right to use the habitats, and bomb any new habitats the Sleeper try to build, massacring hundreds of thousands. When Sleepers beg them to be spared, and given a habitat to live on, the Colonists basically say: "why don't you stay in your Suits?" Millions more die when their suits run out of air, or when water and food runs out. The Colonists are deaf to their pleas.
  4. Centuries go by. The descendants of the surviving Sleepers are now nomads that traverse the wasteland, far away from any habitats. All Sleepers wear protective suits at all times. They never erect any habitats or houses, because only a wretched COLONIST would live in one. To be Sleeper is to roam, to be free, and to not be bound to one place.
  5. Sleepers remember the Treachery. The Massacre. They travel, never camping at the same spot twice. They amass weapons and bid their time. There were given no mercy when they landed. And they will show no mercy when their time comes.
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Frame challenge: Not with humans

The human body is literally intended for bits to fall off it. Humans shed 200 million skin cells every hour. Plus hair falls out. Most of the dust you vacuum up off the floor was once your skin.

But worse than that, your skin also secretes sweat and sebum. They're not intended to stay on your skin long term either, and they can cause dead skin to build up in the same way as mud sticks to your car or your shoes. This causes damage to the skin, and easily gets infected. It's particularly a problem for points where something rubs against your skin, such as bra straps, waist bands, underwear elastic - or the straps and bracing for an armoured suit.

If "medical needs" include getting out to shower at least every other day, and however long it takes to clean the inside of your suit, that's fine. This does mean that at least your washing area needs to be a suitably shielded room though.

There is also the issue of getting enough vitamin D (produced by the skin in response to sunlight) to prevent rickets, but that's easily solved by dietary supplements, so we don't really need to worry about that.

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Frame Challenge

Similar to @TheDemonLord's answer using an internal threat rather than external.

Everyone is Immunocompromised and/or Highly Allergic

Essentially if two people interact with each other while not wearing full protective suits they risk spreading something that will cause the other person to get badly sick or have a severe allergic reaction (and possibly result in death for one or both parties involved). The chance of this happening can be scaled to fit the setting and the needs of the story (or could be revealed to have been a conspiracy all along).

This gives flexibility on what kinds of suits people need to wear to protect themselves depending on what fits with the setting, could look like basic hazmat gear to something more akin to a space suit. This also allows people to remove their suit in a hermetically sealed room so that they can bathe and eat before donning the suit back on.

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  • Biohazard. The environment of this world includes some endemic biological organism that is hazardous to Earth animal life (our immune system just doesn't know what to do with it), and is impractical to remove from any sealed habitat (its cellular biology is resistant to most effective disinfectants like alcohol or benzalkonium chloride, so just spraying/scrubbing the suited person down before removing it doesn't work). You could manage a sterile internal habitat, if the "airlocks" of this habitat included an hours-long decon/quarantine process involving either unsurvivable heat or chemicals that are almost as toxic as the organism, but it's just too time-consuming and dangerous to decon that way, so until medical science creates a counter to this organism that allows humans to venture out unprotected, a prophylactic full-body suit is a practical necessity, 24/7.
    • Difficulties include handwaving basic "input/output" needs of humans (eating/bathroom/sex), and how we wouldn't contaminate ourselves in such situations.
  • Radiation. Sci-fi writers commonly handwave a form of radiation beyond the three we recognize in actual science, such as "theta radiation". It could be that the planet is bathed in some form of stellar radiation that is hazardous in sustained doses, and the habitat itself cannot be shielded against it (perhaps direct conductive contact with the ground defeats the shielding; the hab itself has to be earthed for other systems to work, so you can't just shield the shell, but the people in it can be individually shielded and isolated from ground) and so for maximum protection, everyone wears a personal protective suit even inside the hab.
    • This situation is a little more practical for the needs of everyday life, given the big handwave of magic death cooties that normal shielding doesn't work against. The suit doesn't have to be totally sealed, so you can eat and go to the bathroom, and you can take it off for short periods (shower, intimate contact) but basically nobody else sees you not wearing it, Mandalorian-style.
  • Religion. While we're talking about the Mandalorian, that's certainly a possibility. This suit could be a more functional version of an abaya/burqa, mandated long ago for everyone as part of a society's code of ethics (likely built on the science of the day; pretty much all the kosher and related halal rules about cleanliness are basically a survival guide for desert environments prior to the development of antibiotics). It's likely the actual reasons it was once useful no longer apply, or at least aren't a medical death sentence to a spacefaring race, but it's become the cultural norm to wear this suit at nearly all times due to the religion's near-universal acceptance.
    • This approach would also allow for practical exceptions relating to basic human physiological needs. A code of religious ethics that doesn't allow people to eat, drink and be merry in at least some approved contexts is a code that will end up consigned to the historical dustbin, whether because its adherents give up on it over time, or die out because the code enforces strict chastity.
  • Perceived danger. This is the Monsters, Inc. approach. Any of the above are good reasons, whether they're true or not. By honest mistake or intentional deception, a culture has come to view the environment they're living in as inherently dangerous to them, with actual physical contact believed to be toxic or otherwise contaminating. It doesn't have to be a religious tradition to be universally-mandated.
    • This could make for good conspiracy-theory fodder as a side story; there are some kooks that espouse this ridiculous theory that the world isn't inherently dangerous to us, despite clear and convincing evidence every day that it is (even as logically farcical as "Jerry got a tiny cut in his suit a week ago and now he's in the hospital with a broken leg, clearly the world is dangerous").

TL;DR: You need something endemic to the world around us, with chronic effects on human biochemistry, as a plausible reason that a sealed habitat doesn't work. Most of your common needs are more acute, such as a pressurized oxygen environment requiring spacesuits while outside of a tin can that normally provides this environment in space. That's not what we're after here. You need something unseen and endemic in this environment that doesn't have any immediate effects (so you can't avoid it or activate more momentary protection), but is known (or thought) to cause long-term chronic effects that cause these humans to have to wear their suits full-time.

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  • $\begingroup$ The biological and radiation ones are great. Just make them so dangerous that if you aren't wearing a suit when a leak is detected, it would already be too late. Giving people a great incentive to still use their protective suits in a sterile environments as a secondary layer of safety. Maybe even make breaches 'uncommon but not rare', because of something like micro meteoric impacts that are nearly impossible to defend any sizable area against. $\endgroup$
    – vinzzz001
    Commented May 21 at 11:37
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Because having full-body clothing all the time is actually more convenient and cheaper than building and using habitats with airlocks.

Why? In space combat fragile pressurized compartments for crew are a liability. Also on space construction sites it is advantageous when workers don't need to spend time putting suits on and off, and waiting in airlocks.

How? We usually imagine space suits as rigid thick and unwieldy but it isn't necessarily the case. There are counterpressure suits under research that are thinner and more flexible because instead of holding air in, they provide pressure directly onto the skin. Only head is covered by a helmet. In 100 years, with advanced materials and micro actuators, wearing these will feel easy just like spandex today.

Of course, there's problem with eating and other bodily functions. The suit needs airlock-like devices to exchange stuff with environment and recycle water. Genetically engineered bacteria to keep the skin healthy.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem with counterpressure is how to handle breathing. And how to make it fit perfectly. $\endgroup$ Commented May 22 at 1:58
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Rarity of materials. If there's a material required for protecting a person from an environmental hazard but it is rare then it would make sense to construct this material into protective clothing than build a protective enclosure.

If we assume that one adult human requires 2 square meters of protective material to make a protective suit but 20 square meters to build some kind of protective habitat then it is simply cheaper to build the suit. There would be a point where the size of the population of humans is such that it would be cheaper to build a habitat than a bunch of suits, because the squared-cubed law applies.

Think of something like a diving suit versus a submarine. If it's just one person going deep in the water then it's cheaper to build a diving suit of some kind. If you need a few dozen to a few hundred people underwater for some task then it is more efficient to build a submarine for them to work in.

Rarity of energy. Maybe the threat is something like being cold, where it is cheaper to heat a suit than a habitat. Much the same rules on energy rarity applies to material rarity.

Gravity. There's really no protection against gravity, we can't shield people from this but we could perhaps build some kind of suit that can aid in holding people up from the weight. This would be an interesting environment to consider for all kinds of reasons.

A place with gravity that is just too high to survive outside of some support suit means people just won't go there, or at least not for any period that building habitats would even be considered. If the gravity is high enough to survive for small periods without a support suit then it may be that people will simply build the muscle and bone to live outside of any protective suit given time. Maybe the gravity in this environment is "just right" that people can tolerate short periods outside of a support suit, such as to lie down to sleep, take a bath, and so on. Then they'd have to get in the suit to get on with their lives, or be so tired from exertion that it would be painful, dangerous, or whatever.

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The environment is difficult to keep out.

The local environment is Sarin or something else as lethal. Extreme precautions are needed to decontaminate anything passing through the airlock, making the process very slow.

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THEY JUST DO

what the question reminds me of is this meme: enter image description here

so essentially, we are already wearing 247 full protective suits, that protects us from the enviornment, and makes us mobile,

I think the preference for universal body suits, is a question of the technology's seamless, If the tech is seamless enough, i think people would just intergrate with it, as it has become a core component of their life.

Wanna go out and have a swim in the burning magma of a near solar planet the same way you take a dip in the jacuzzi after a night out with the bros? with the newest intergrated suit, you can go ahead now, and you dont even have to take it off when you lay back to bed, or wake up at 3 am for your daily snacking on titanium rich micro meterorites.

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