Peter Storm is maybe best known for the invention of the cagoule, but the brand actually produced a complete range of different rainwear from lightweight nylon gear to heavier PU and even PVC rainwear. The popularity of the brand peaked around the sixties and seventies in the UK, but still today there are people with fond memories of this specific brand of rainwear.
While nylon, a synthetic fiber first produced in a laboratory of DuPont, was invented in the 1930s, it took a good 2 decades before it became plentiful available to the general audience. At first nylon was mostly used for making stockings, but during the Second World War the focus was shifted to airplane cord, parachutes, and ropes. Only after the war, when production capacity was increased and new variations of nylon were invented, other applications were found for nylon. Besides socks, pajamas, and sweaters, nylon was soon also used for carpets and car seat upholsteries. Below a 1965 advertisement for carpet made out of bri-nylon.
Noel Bibby, a former Royal Marine, saw a new application for nylon: light-weight rainwear. In 1954 he established the brand “Peter Storm” to produce rainwear for the UK market with one of the main materials being used a variety of nylon: bri-nylon. Below a picture of the label of some original Peter Storm rainwear made in bri-nylon with a 100% polyurethane backing.
Rainwear was widely available on the UK already: besides large stocks of left-over rainwear from the British troops used during the war there were plenty of extremely waterproof materials available like gabardine, rubberized trench coats, synthetic rubber coats, and plastics. But none of these products had on offer what bri-nylon had: extreme low weight. And this was an important feature in a period when leisure time increased for ordinary citizens and more and more people chose to venture out in nature for relaxation. Bringing along a heavy raincoat just for in case it would rain was burdensome, but having a tiny package containing some light-weight raincoat was a small effort. The market was ready for lightweight rainwear. Below three modern Peter Storm cagoules and the tiny package they came in held in the front.
In the early 60s the Peter Storm brand introduced a unique new design of light-weight rainwear: the cagoule. This was an often unlined and very thin raincoat with attached hood that could be rolled up and packed in a tiny pouch, as shown above. In advertisements Peter Storm raincoats and cagoules were mostly marketed to mountaineers as they would want to travel as light as possible and would want to avoid a heavy raincoat that would leave the wearer sweaty and exhausted. Below a Peter Storm advertisement aimed at mountaineers.
Nylon, or bri-nylon specifically, is not waterproof by itself. The threads can be sown very close together (expressed as a “high denier” material) to make the material showerproof at best, but for making it waterproof it is necessary to add a backing that will keep the water out. This was a field of fierce competition where brands tried to find the perfect balance between waterproofness, material thickness, production costs, and overall experience of wearing. For the most basic raingear Peter Storm made use of 70 denier nylon that was backed by a proofing made of 1 oz of polyurethane per square meter. The result was lightweight gear with an attractive nylon look, and a sometimes praised smooth lining of synthetic rubber. This material is often referred to as PU/Nylon. And while it is great gear to take along on a hike or use in regular wet circumstances, the main drawback is sweat condensing on the inside of the gear leaving the wearer wet with sweat. Below three birght colored Peter Storm raincoats with their shiny PU lining showing. Picture from the Flickr profile of trackies.co.uk.
Innovations and a lot of testing resulted in the development of breathable materials, often with the PU coating on the outside of the woven nylon to avoid sweat being trapped close to the body. This material was often referred to as Nylon/PU. Besides the PU layer on the outside also the quality (denier) of the nylon was experimented with. The 400-series of Peter Storm was produced with 205 denier nylon (the higher the denier, the finer and more expensive the nylon) and it had over 1.5 oz of PU backing per square meter.
The difference between the PU/Nylon and Nylon/PU materials is easy to spot by comparing them visually. The nylon coating on the cheaper range closely resembles a nylon tracksuit, while a heavier range of gear with a thicker layer of PU on the outside better resembles heavy-duty oilskins (ollies) with their thick and shiny outer layer. The first picture below is of PU/Nylon followed by two advertisement pictures of Nylon/PU rainwear, notice the beautiful shiny finish on the Nylon/PU gear.
The first picture is clearly aimed at mountaineers and people who like to stroll through nature, while the second and third picture have sailors and watersporters as target audience. Notice the bright colours that are very common on the water and the shiny finish. The lady in the yellow suit even has bib pants on which are often seen in commercial fishing. Below another advertisement picture of Peter Storm rainwear situated near the coats but this time with raingear that looks less impressive and shiny.
While the weight and breathability is very important for mountaineers, sailors are mostly looking for sturdiness. On a boat the weight of your rainwear does not matter muchas you do not have to carry it around and even breathability has limited added value as sailing is a much less strenuous activity than walking through nature and climbing hills and mountains. Still, breathability was often advertised as one of the main features setting their rainwear apart as shown in the advertisement below of the “No Sweat” range of rainwear.
Even PVC rainwear was produced under the Peter Storm brand name (series 200), hoping to capture a part of the sailing market that previously relied partly on imported brands like Guy Cotton. The sales of the PVC range were limited though with the design being very basic and the gear mostly available in bright white.
One of the main competitors of the more sophisticated nylon/PU materials was Gore-tex. While nylon/PU was breathable, Gore-tex was demonstrably better, being able to transfer about 6 times more moist through the pores in the material. Peter Storm was able to produce material that was able to let through 2.8 liters of water vapor per square meter in 24 hours with their MVT material, but it was no match for standard Gore-tex. Improvements came later with higher ratings for their newer lines of MVT rainwear. But in the end it all ended up being marketing, because who sweats that much while boating anyways that 2.8MVTis not enough? Below the label of Peter Storm rainwear with a 2.8MVT rating, photocredit PeterStormCagoule on Flickr.
The target audience was not limited to just mountaineers or sailors, almost everyone doing sports or activities with a possible need for rainwear would consider buying Peter Storm rainwear. Below several pages of Peter Storm products specifically aimed at golfers and cyclists. The general trendiness of the rainwear combined with the affordable prices also made it a brand often worn by kids. The light weight rainwear was easy to bring along to school in case it would be raining once classes finished. Pictures below again from PeterStormCagoule.
The popularity of the Peter Storm brand got a new infusion in the late 70s and early 80s when the Peter Storm cagoules suddenly become fashionable under the British youth. Instead of parents buying their kids a nylon rainsuit for a school camping trip, it were now football hooligans who adopted this garment as part of their “uniform”. This let to strange sightings of aggressive looking youngsters visiting specialist mountaineering shops to buy Peter Storm cagoules with the sales people having no clue where the sudden demand came from, but they were happy to sell. Below a picture of the movie Awaydays with several of the hooligans wearing a dark green nylon cagoule.
After the passing of its founder Noel Bibby, the British rights to the Peter Storm name were bought by Black Leisure Group which was subsequently acquired by JD Sports. The brand still exists today and stays surprisingly close to the original brand image. Even today they still sell their iconic cagoule raincoats that have by now become part of the British cultural zeitgeist with bouts of popularity under football hooligans, within the Acid House underground culture, and other street cultures. The last sudden increase of popularity was with the release of the movie Awaydays. Not surprisingly the brand played in on this increase of popularity by reintroducing their range of cagoules with pictures that breath the overall atmosphere in the movie.
The materials used for Peter Storm rainwear have changed over time, and the earliest itterations of PU/Nylon is by many seen as the most sought-after. The combination of the nylon and polyurethane used in that period is supposed to give the most memorable smell, feel, and sound. You will see this reflected in prices of the older rainwear which is still occaissinially put up for sale online. From time to time some Nylon/PU rainwear would come up for sale, but unfortunately the materials used have often not survived the time. Below a picture of a Bukflex (Nylon/PU) raincoat in yellow which was put up for sale followed by a detail picture of the label.
While the coat looks decent in the first picture, especially when you realize it is maybe over 50 years old, the picture below shows the problem with a PU coating and how to ages.
Peter Storm rainwear is still available today, with a range of cagoules and rainwear that resembles the iconic rainwear from the sixties and seventies. The gear is actually surprisingly cheap, with cagoules for as little as 15-20 UKP brand new. The benefits of decades ago, light weight, easy to pack, and affordable, still fly today. Below a picture of the lining of a modern Peter Storm raincoat with taped seams to keep the wearer dry.
Many thanks to “Anorak” for sharing pictures, information, and articles that have formed the base for this article.