Vintage Formal

Store Sign

Paul Formal runs the Max Formal Company, a linens and work clothes shop his father established in Providence back in 1953. Inside, the store resembles more of an inventory room than a retail space. Most of Paul’s walk-in business has dwindled since introducing on-line shopping. Curb appeal has taken a backseat to Web appeal making the looks and layout of the bricks and mortar shop less important these days. But tucked away among the stacks of contemporary sheets, pants and shirts are a trove of vintage fashion styles that really caught our eyes. What was especialy amazing is seeing these threads and frocks still packed in their original boxes wearing their classic designer labels. Quite the treat for a couple of graphic designerds!

Paul allowed us to explore and photograph his impressive collection. He even took us on a tour throughout the back rooms and basement of his multistory building. Each room revealed more goodies and visual delights. In one closet Paul had a collection of empty boxes that he kept simply for the attractive packaging design. “To me, these are all works of art,” Paul told us. We couldn’t agree more.

Beyond his role of local business owner, Paul is also a supporter of the arts, especially the creative students attending RISD just down the road from his store. One student who benefitted greatly from Paul’s support was Shepard Fairey who established himself as a notable graphic and street artist around Providence in the mid 1990’s. Shepard is best known for his Andre the Giant stickers and the iconic Hope poster seen in the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. As a gesture of his appreciation to Paul for his assistance and friendship, Shepard designed the Max Formal Company sign that hangs above the shop today, an icon in its own right.

Check out the pictures Laura and I took of the old school graphic design labels spotted in Paul’s. And if you find yourself in Providence stop by for an in-person peek.

CORRECTION: Paul runs the Max Formal Company together with his beautiful and loving wife Debbie. They, like the WE team, have been supportive partners in life and business. Our apologies for this oversight. 

Vintage Logo

Vintage Logo Collage 01

Vintage Logo Collage 02

  • Nhlehrer

    I’m impressed and will be sure to stop by next time I am in Providence!

    • PaulLFormal

      Thank you. It will be great seeing you soon. It is worth the trip from Philadelphia and you should make time to visit us. Not looking to impress anyone. We love RI’s art community and apparently they also love us. We are so lucky.

  • Phil Oliveira

    Paul and Debbie are great people!!! Max Formal is certainly a Providence institution!!!

    • PaulLFormal

      Phil, Thank you for your kind comment and friendship. We appreciate you. Have a wonderful day!

  • Jim Tobak

    Absolutely marvelous collection and a tribute to the Formals who have had the perspicacity to preserve these treasures.

    • PaulLFormal

      Jim, I thoroughly enjoy your collection of vintage items as well. Your family being in the haberdashery business forever in Newport is another RI treasure. You are the 2nd best dresser at the J health-club, but keep on trying. Love to Jill. Again, thank you for your kind words. Take care.

  • K Demong

    Paul and Debbie are a treat to deal with – honest, knowledgable, and incredibly helpful. Their store is also a candy land for anyone interested in retro. We originally used them a dozen years ago to furnish our Caribbean rental vacation villa and could not have been more satisfied. We have returned over and over again. They are the best and worth the drive.

    • PaulLFormal

      Kristen, we hope that you and your husband are doing well in the Carribbean. It is so nice of you to make such nice comments about us. I hope that all is well. Have a beautiful day!

  • Tom Aquino

    Pretty cool “stuff”. Friends of Paul and family. Some of the nicest people to be with in life!

    • PaulLFormal

      Tom, Thank you. You do so much for the community. You are a wonderful, kind person.

  • Mayblvd

    An awesome variety of dry goods awaits visitors to Max Formal Co. Great service and high quality at one location.

    • PaulLFormal

      Mayblvd, Thank you so very much for your kind words. It is nice to know that some people appreciate us. Have a terrific day! Again, Thank you.

  • Michae43

    I have seen Paul wearing these vintage clothes around the neighborhood. Classic looks truly never go out of style.

    • PaulLFormal

      Michae43, Thank you. As you probably know, many movie stars wear my vintage clothing. But, my passion is the graphics and design on the labels and boxes. I look at these items as someone else might appreciate an oil painting. Have a wonderful day!

  • PaulLFormal

    Thank you for the nice article on your blog. Please remember that my wonderful wife and soul-mate Debbie also runs the business together with me. We are a great team! To me these and many more graphics are beautiful pieces of art history. I strongly believe that the government needs to support all types of artists. If artists get paid fairly for their work, then they can put their revenues back into the economy and make the economy move in a positive direction. Artists can educate our children, elderly, prisoners, etc… getting people to use their imagination, minds, hands, etc… Peace, love, health and happiness to all.

  • Jennifer

    Terrific post…Love Max Formal…a true RI gem!!

    • PaulLFormal

      Jennifer, you and Dave are the best. We miss OOP! Thank you for all that you do to help RI artists as well. Deb and I are so glad that your family is doing so well.
      Have a gorgeous day! Thank you so much for your kind comment. Hope to see you soon.

  • PaulLFormal

    I would like to also thank Buck Hastings, who hand painted our sign. He is the world’s greatest sign painter, and a fabulous young man.

  • Jgray

    Nice people, and a Rhode Island tradition

  • LDGlazer

    Great story & pics about great people. It’s the longtime businesses like ours that help keep our city, state, & country going. We’ve only got 50 years on you, maybe you’ll catch up!

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