15 Tips for Shopping at a Vintage Flea Market






By Stuart Dyer Mesires


It’s summer, which means it’s flea market season! One of my favorite times of year. Throughout the country and indeed worldwide, flea markets are in full swing. I find that people are sometimes intimidated by the prospect of shopping at flea markets. In order to help them get over this fear, below I am giving 15 Tips for Shopping at a Flea Market in the hopes of making them feel more comfortable.



We have some great flea markets here in Chicago including the Randolph Street Market which I love to go to but I also love to shop at flea markets wherever I travel. I find that in addition to discovering vintage treasures not available at home, that shopping these markets also gives me an interesting perspective on a place beyond just the typical tourist sights. It allows me an opportunity to mix with locals as well as to get a glimpse of a place’s past by searching through its vintage.



This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to the South of France where I went to a fabulous flea market called, Brocantes du Jas des Roberts located just outside of Saint Tropez.  It is a weekly flea market that takes place in the parking lot and on the grounds of a local restaurant. I was able to find amazing pieces of French costume jewelry for my business but they also had all sorts of amazing pieces of furniture, housewares, porcelain, linens, etc. I went to the market with two friends who had not previously shopped at a flea market before and it gave me the inspiration to write this piece.



I would hate for people to miss out on opportunities to shop at flea markets so I am offering the following tips

1) Go early. In order to have a crack at the best selection of goods at a flea market, you need to get there early. Often by 10 AM, the best pieces will already be gone – picked over by dealers, designers and collectors. Check ahead to see if the flea market has an early buying option. Often these tickets are offered at a higher price than general admission but you do get the first opportunity to buy.



2) Bring Cash. Some dealers will only take cash and often you can get the best deals by paying in cash. Many dealers will also accept checks so be sure to bring your checkbook along as well, especially for larger ticket items.



3) Dress comfortably. Often you will be on your feet for many hours so it’s important to wear comfortable shoes. Also dress in layers as if you get to a show early in the morning, it can be cool but by the time the sun is fully up, it can get very hot. You want to make sure that you are able to remove layers. It is also always a good idea to bring a hat, sunglasses and sunblock.



4) Bring things to carry your treasures home in such as bags, boxes and even bubble wrap and newspaper to wrap them in and keep them protected. You might also want to bring a wheeled cart. It can be quite tiring lugging your finds around all day.



5) Bring a list. Make a list of what you hope to purchase before going to the flea market. Once you are there it can be an overwhelming experience with so many objects, colors, shapes, sounds and people that often you can find yourself forgetting what exactly you went there for in the first place.



6) Bring a supply kit. Make sure to bring a measuring tape so that you can measure your finds. Sometimes the scale of something looks different out in a field – especially furniture. Bring a magnifying glass so that you can closely inspect an item. Often a crack or chip won’t be visible at first to the naked eye. Also, a magnifying glass will help you to examine a maker’s mark.



7) It’s a good idea that as you see items that you like but are not ready to purchase, that you take pictures, get prices and write down booth numbers for the items so that you can return to find them again. It is easy to get overwhelmed and forget where exactly you saw a piece.



8) Be prepared to haggle. Most flea market dealers expect that you will ask for some sort of discount on their pieces. Usually you can expect a vendor to go down 10-15% on their original asking price. Always be respectful and polite when asking if they can do better on a price and if they do go down, make sure to thank them. Don’t haggle if you’re not serious about buying an item. Also note that the best discounts are usually given on the last day of a flea market during the last hours of a show.



9) Bring water and food. Most flea markets have limited food and beverage vendors and they usually aren’t that tasty. Plus why take time away from your shopping by waiting in lines for food?

10) Calculate all the costs of buying something to see if the purchase is a worthwhile one. If it is a piece of furniture, try to calculate the cost of the labor of having it reupholstered, the cost of new fabric and also delivery charges to and from the upholsterer. If its a piece of clothing take in to consideration the cost of dry cleaning and/or alterations. If it is a piece that needs work, you need to love it, in order to account for the time and money that you will need to put into it.



11) Make quick decisions. If you love a piece and leave it, chances are if you go back for it that it will be gone.

12) Make sure you look high and low. Sometimes there are treasures hidden under a table or hanging up high in a booth that could be overlooked.



13) Before paying for a large item, ask the dealer about his/her pick-up policy. You need to know if you are required to take the item with you right away or if you can leave it in his/her booth for the day. If they let you leave it there while you shop, you will need to know what time you are expected to move it out.

14) Think about how you can re-purpose an item. For example, I am always looking for beautiful vintage Hermes scarves that I can frame and re-purpose as artwork. You could also re-purpose a vintage pitcher as a vase, or re-purpose a vintage vase or ginger jar as a lamp. Be creative!



15) Don’t buy something just because the price is low. I have fallen victim to this too many times. Make sure that you really love the item not just its price and think about whether you would still want the piece if the price was higher.
I hope that these tips have helped the novice flea market shopper feel more comfortable and confident and hope that they inspire people to get out there and shop a flea!


To learn more about Stuart Dyer Mesires’s Lady Bug Vintage, click http://www.ladybugvintage.com.