It’s the first Saturday of every month, but in winter there are less sellers. The weather has been pretty mild, so a few friends and I decided to grab coffees and venture out early last weekend to see what finds were out there. I try to hit it a few times a year to see what treasures can be found. I am always surprised at those who never go, or ask questions about it.
Here’s a few tips for those newbies who would like to, “flea,” as my pal Jen and I say, but have no clue about it.
Scope out the particular market online and see what others tips are, where to park, etc. (For example, the De Anza flea has parking for $5 and you need to arrive early to access it.)
Dress in layers. I have rarely been to a flea market where I didn’t freeze in the early morning hours and cook later. A lightweight down jacket is perfect to start the morning and jam it into your bag later without weighing you down.
Hats are smart for warmth early on and sun protection later. You are out in the elements! Sunscreen and sunglasses are often forgotten when you start early in the a.m.. Be smart in the summer months. You’d be surprised how fast you can burn.
Comfy shoes are a must as well and I prefer warm boots or sneakers. Sandals in the summer look cute, but your feet can fry and yes you will walk a ton!
Water and a snack like almonds are nice to tuck into your bag.
Bags to hold your purchases. I carry a large tote that is light and have few smaller ones tucked inside.
Cash. You’ll need small bills and a few $20s. Basically, I carry what I want to spend. This time I brought $60 and spent around $40. I also carry a check for more expensive items I might find like furniture.
My water, gloves, money and more-ready to go.
Keep your eye out for specific items. Certain vendors often specialize in things like silver or rugs. On this trip, I was looking for a tiny silver tea pot. No one had it, but I spoke with a gentleman who frequently has them and is there regularly. If you are keen to collect a particular item, it helps to chat up with sellers. They are often knowledgeable and can help you find what you are looking for.
Be nice to vendors. It helps to be friendly, and you may get a better price.
That said, be ready to haggle. It is after all a flea. If something is $28, you might ask if they will take $20, and often they will say they can do $23 or something. It usually goes like that. If something is especially inexpensive, like my print I scored for $3, I do not haggle. Be decent and use good judgement. If something seems priced too high for it’s worth, move on.
It helps to examine potential purchases carefully. Has something been repaired or mended? Look for wear and tear and stains on clothing. The print I got (see below), was pristine, but I did look at it from many angles to see if there was an warping, water damage or fading from sun.
Be ready to nab a great find when you see it. Some of my biggest flea regrets were not grabbing something the first time I walked by it. I’ve hesitated on some authentic designer bags, antique cane chairs and other things that I kicked myself for later. Remember these are mostly one of a kind things, so grab something that you think you could love. It’s usually gone when you go back.
This trip I was lucky to get a very pretty antique print of a German garden and home for $3 in wonderful condition with a very nice frame.
I also found a black dress I loved with pockets for $7 that I think will be great for summer and spring.
Another great vendor was a chic girl who made her own jewels. I bought a cute necklace that was gold and very American Hustle looking. My friends purchased necklaces too. We spent the most dollars there, but her pieces had quality and were way below what they would be retail.
My favorite item was a scarf made of Yak wool! Who knew it was so soft, warm and beautiful? It was made in Nepal and cost me $10. The seller wanted me to pick another and sell me both for a total of $15. I wish I did so, but I wasn’t sure. Now I’m bummed I didn’t. The colors were lovely and it could have made super gift too.
Great items to look for at a flea market:
Vintage coats and bags– Many vendors specialize in cool ones from the 60s especially.
Books– They are always a bargain and there are sellers that have current titles as well as antique books. I have rarely come home without a book from one. Children’s titles are especially a deal and copious.
Furniture– The best pieces get sold early so make haste!
Bikes and sporting goods– I found all my vintage wooden tennis and squash racquets there for less than $3 each and they sell on One King’s Lane for $70 and up!
Jewelry– Vintage and designers with their own stands are ubiquitous.
Art– New as well as old are very popular.
Scarves and hats– Always a great deal here and new.
Plants!- Succulents were all over the place last weekend, but I have also bought some great olive trees as well as topiaries. Sellers with roses and citrus were quite busy..
Some of the succulents last weekend selling 2 for $1.50. She also had pots for terrific prices.
I’d love to hear your experiences flea marketing. I really dig the thrill of finding that unique piece. Stumbling across a market while traveling can also be a treat. I have been to Portobello Road in London, where I found the vendors a bit harsh, and a Hawaiian one, which was a real gem. One day, I’d love to get to a French one, (or as they say, marche aux puces), and closer to home, the Rose Bowl market someday.
For more inspiration see what the amazing treasure-hunting Terri, from the lovely blog, LA Dolfina, did with her finds from flea markets. She turned her son’s bedroom into a Ralph Lauren-inspired haberdashery, and created the most glamorous dining room. Her home is beyond lovely. You’ll adore her blog which sometimes shows the goods at the Alameda Point market which is the best in the Bay Area!
A very good guide and fun read to flea markets and such, is Good Morning Americas’ Lara Spencer’s book, here. Loved seeing what she does with her finds in her gorgeous home as well.