Believe it or not, going to a flea market is a lot like going to a theme park or a sporting event: The better prepared you are, the better time you’ll have. Just like you would before a family trip to an amusement park, plan out your entire day and pack accordingly. Oh, and try to remember where you parked!
Be sure to check opening times in advance, and choose an arrival time that suits your individual shopping goals (because we all know that the early bird gets the vintage-find-deal-of-the-century worm). You’ll likely be walking a fair amount outdoors, so dress for the season and expected weather. Layers are always a good idea, as are comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses, a hat, and hand sanitizer. Bringing plenty of reusable bags will come in handy as you collect your treasures, as will some water, sunscreen, and enough cash in-pocket to avoid the dreaded ATM line for as long as possible.
Unlike your local grocery store, most antique and flea markets won’t have shopping carts available for use (although some will, often for a small rental fee). Without a set of wheels, there’s one painfully obvious — yet incredibly important — thing to keep in mind while browsing a market: Once you make a purchase, you’re the one responsible for making sure it makes it to your home.
For many smaller items, like vintage cutlery, jewelry, and dolls, a reusable bag brought from home is an ideal mode of transport. For larger items, like furniture or oversized art, many vendors will be happy to assist in scheduling a delivery (and they’re probably quite used to the request). However, there are some items that are neither small nor large, and are thus slightly more difficult to manage.
Sure, you may really love that antique diving bell or vintage tuba, but do you really want to carry it around with you while you continue to shop? Probably not.
Many vendors will be happy to mark an item as sold after you purchase it, then keep it in a safe place until you’re ready to pick it up later in the day. Keep in mind that there are no guarantees that the item won’t be accidentally sold or lost after you walk away, so if it’s something you’re madly in love with, you may want to consider schlepping it to the car sooner than later.
One of the most exciting things about an antique market is that you never know what you’re going to find, so go in with an open mind! Seeing things in a new light can open up a world of possibility to the eagle-eyed shopper, and all it takes is a little imagination. Practically anything at a flea market can be repurposed as a piece of art or decorative accessory.
Don’t simply limit yourself to the booths that scream “art vendor,” or that feature ornate frames and oil paintings, or piles of vintage prints and posters (which are often reproductions, anyway). Instead, look all around you! Art is absolutely everywhere at a flea market; you just have to know how to envision it in your home.
Let’s say that you’re looking for art to fill an uninspired wall in your home. Instead of scouring the market for a singular piece that will do the trick, consider building a custom gallery wall out of many smaller pieces, taking some of the pressure off of locating that one perfect find.
This goes back to shopping strategically, as well: It’s much easier to carry smaller items around the market than one or two large ones — especially when they’re vintage postcards from pre-WWII London, mathematical flashcards from the 1950s, or handwritten recipe cards featuring cursive that’s almost too pretty to read. Once your new finds have made it home safely, are placed in simple frames, and displayed for all to see, your impressive gallery may fill a wall from top to bottom, yet each item in it was hand-selected at the flea market and carried away with ease.
Not looking for a project? Sometimes one unique item can be interesting enough to anchor an entire space in your home, whether that’s an antique dress form, a row of theatre seats, or even that vintage tuba you seem to love so much. Layering one or two vintage pieces into a room’s existing design aesthetic is a fabulous way to evolve your style over time, without overdoing it overnight.
Never assume that the first price you hear is the lowest price possible. Instead of offering a price that you think is fair, try asking, “What’s the best you can do on this?” It allows the seller to set the bidding price, so you’ll never accidentally offer more than something is worth!
Don’t hesitate when it comes to purchasing items you really love, because they may be gone moments later. A flea market isn’t a museum; you’re there to buy things! Have confidence when your gut tells you something, then make a decision and go with it.
Most importantly, have fun! There’s no right or wrong way to browse a flea market, so just do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. If all goes well, you’ll be telling visitors about your trip for years to come when they compliment your décor!