Summer is a time when everything that usually happens suddenly gets better. Concerts turn into full-on festivals, weekends become four day getaways and, after months of residing in dank church basements and parking garages, flea markets are moved to sunny outdoor venues.
This annual relocation to streets and fields always means an increase in everything—vendors, shoppers, merchandise—which can make the experience a little daunting. But, after trolling secondhand marketplaces (both indoors and out) for years, I’ve picked up a few tricks that I’m happy to share. Keep reading for my top six tips on shopping summer flea markets and then click here to find a good one near you.
1. Shop early and with a plan.
For the best selection of merchandise, it’s important to arrive right after the vendors have set up which, for many places, is super early in the morning. It’s well worth your effort. Not only will all the stands be clean, organized and fully stocked, but you can browse them unfettered by bustling crowds.
As for that plan. When you begin, try to have a general idea of what you’re looking for. Do you need new decorations for your apartment? Jewelry from the ’20s? These guidelines will keep you focused, you’ll be less likely to buy things you’ll never use. The caveat: don’t completely shut yourself off to impulse purchases. You can’t really predict when a crazy cheap Chanel jacket in your size is going to show up.
2. Wear layers and comfy shoes.
Getting a head start on the day means that it will probably be chilly when you arrive. Accommodate the changing temperature by throwing a sweater and lightweight jacket over a T-shirt and peel off layers as the sun rises. As for footwear, you’re going to be on your feel all day and possibly trying things on. It’s best to wear something flat (-ish) with lots of arch support that is also easy to slide one and off. So yeah, leave the pointy-toed stiletto booties with the Victorian-inspired laces at home. (Although, those sound like amazing flea market finds.)
3. Don’t stay home if it’s raining.
Even if conditions are less than ideal you should still arrive in the morning, wearing those aforementioned layers and comfy shoes. (And perhaps a hooded Barbour jacket!) Although less sellers show up on stormy days, those who do turn out will be more apt you cut you a deal. Bad weather is usually bad for business, which means everyone present will be eager to make sales.
4. Accessorize properly.
If you want to carry a purse, go with a crossbody style that won’t dig into your shoulder throughout the day. Lightweight tote bags and medium-sized backpacks work, too, basically anything that won’t hinder your ability to dig through crates of merchandise. Whichever style you do choose, fill it with spare grocery/canvas bags to wrap your purchases in, a small bottle of sunscreen, water and snacks. I suggest an energy bar and/or fruit because you can munch them on the go.
5. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
Whether you are willing to pay full price for something are not, you should always attempt to (politely!) strike a deal. Remember, it’s not like shopping at Barneys New York! At flea markets, you’re expected to bargain. Try it. You’ll be surprised at how much money you save.
6. Cash is key.
A lot of smaller stands don’t have credit card machines, so it’s best to be have lots of cash on hand, preferably small bills. And, even if they do have a card swipe, it’s better not to keep charging stuff. All those transactions under different names in a row will freak out your bank and they might freeze your account. Physical money is also a good way to pace yourself; if you’re worried about spending too much, just bring the amount you’d like to spend and leave when it’s gone. Of course, for emergencies (like crazy-cheap-Chanel-jacket-in-your-size emergencies) you should always keep a check book and plastic on hand.
For more advice on how to shop an outdoor marketplace, watch our "How to Shop a Summer Flea Market" video below!
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