Flea Market Secrets |12 Tips to Shop Like a PRO

Flea Market Secrets


What is my secret for sourcing the most exquisite antiques? It’s a question I’m often asked…and the answer isn’t simple.

For FrenchGardenHouse, I buy from antique dealers all over the world. I’ve been in this business long enough to have developed a network of fellow dealers and now friends. They are amongst the best in the business, and I am so blessed that often, they give me first choice of their treasures.

If they are local, I invite them over and serve them breakfast, coffee, lunch, or sometimes all three, depending on how much they’ve brought for me to see!


Then there is the thrill of the hunt. This “hunt” takes me to flea markets all over the world, and to private by-invitation-only sales, but it’s the Flea Market that is a favorite hunting ground.

Shopping for antiques at markets is in my blood. I can’t wait for flea market season to be in full swing again!

At your request, I’m offering some sage advice for shopping at a flea market this spring, in no time you will be able to shop a flea market like a pro.

Flea Market Secrets

1.GET THERE EARLY. Be there right when the market opens. It really IS true that the early bird gets the worm. I usually see the best pieces fly out of booths in the very beginning. Often, they get bought by other flea market dealers, who then resell in their own booth. Pieces can travel the market on that same day, and have a price increase each time it lands in a new booth.



European flea markets start much later than the ones here in the states, but be there when it opens. In France, the Flea Market Stall Holders will make you wait while they drink their Cafe~au~lait until 9 or 10, but it’s still worthwhile to be there when the flea market opens to find the best treasures.  It gets very crowded in the afternoon.


2.TAKE CASH. Get small bills, it makes bargaining easier when you have exact change. Some dealers accept credit cards, a few take a check. Cash is still the preferred payment. Get a fanny pack or something that will help you keep your money on you.  I wear a small leather cross body bag, it has long straps and is perfect. This way I don’t worry about losing my money, and it’s always accessible.


3. BE COMFORTABLE.  Forget your wonderful fashion sense, and wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes. Take a sweater or jacket, it’s cold in the morning, but can heat up quite fast, so dress in layers. Don’t dress too nicely. Skip the designer clothes, you want to mix in with the crowd. Trust me, if you dress too nicely, prices will go up.  Take sunblock, a hat and sunglasses if it will be sunny.


4. TAKE WATER AND A PROTEIN SNACK. Most flea markets are big! All that shopping and walking makes you thirsty, and hungry. Most flea markets do not offer wonderful food. You may not want to stop shopping to stand in line to buy something to drink. Be sure to take a little packet of anti-bacterial wipes, too.


5. TAKE NOTES ON YOUR PHONE. Or take a small notepad and pen. This way you can write down what you paid for a certain item, an address a dealer may tell you about, or an idea for using something in a creative way you saw. These days, I use my phone for notes, and take a photo of something interesting I want to remember, or a stall number where I leave something.

If you buy something large, the vendor will keep it for you ’til you leave. But be sure you make clear and descriptive notes about where your item is. The last thing you want to do at the end of the day is run through aisles and aisles looking for your purchases.


6.  BE COURTEOUS. Unlike antique online sources, flea market dealers price {=charge more than they want} their items with some negotiating room. I usually decide for myself what a certain item is worth to me before I ask “What is your best price?” and smile. If you buy several items from a vendor they’ll usually be amenable to a group discount.

Do NOT degrade the item, or offer $5.00 for an item marked $60.00. {I overhear people doing that!..I once saw a dealer throw a vase on the ground he was so mad at a ridiculous offer, saying “I’d rather break it than sell this to you!”} Dealers work HARD. They spend days, weeks months traveling looking for the best pieces. Respect. Graciousness. Politeness. Friendliness. As in life, these things matter at a flea market.


7. TAKE TOOLS.  A measuring tape, a magnet, and a magnifying glass are all great to take along. If you know the measurements of your walls (put in your little notebook or phone) you can measure the huge cabinet to see if it will work for you.

The magnifying glass is always great to check out marks, and look for chips, and hairline cracks on porcelain pieces. I also always feel porcelain and glass with my fingertips for breaks and chips.

The magnet will not stick to: Brass, Bronze, Copper, Sterling, and Gold. (a magnet will stick slightly to some Sterling, but not like it will stick to Silver Plate)


8. MAKE A LIST. Especially if you have a limited budget, or space, a list keeps you focused. There are so many things to buy at a flea market, that it can get overwhelming, fast. A list keeps you in line with what you are looking for, what you can afford, and what you need.


{If you find something that almost gives you a heart attack you love it so much, throw the list out of the window and buy it!}


9. BUY WHAT YOU LOVE.  There are so many treasures to be found, so be selective. But if you see something that sends off sparks your mind, something that is a conversation piece, something that is a little quirky and out of the ordinary….buy it.  It’s those one of a kind unusual pieces that will infuse your home with your personality.


10. BE POSSESSIVE. When you do find something you love, hold it in your hand. Or put your hand on it if it’s big. Possession is 9/10th of the law, at the flea, it’s 100%.

Don’t put the item down until you are sure you aren’t going to buy it. Believe me, once you look interested, all of a sudden three other people want it. If you ponder too long, or let go of the item, someone else will buy it.


11. BE CURIOUS.  Look everywhere, in icky cardboard boxes, at all the stacked plates. I often find amazing antique treasure by asking to look in boxes, and digging a little. Be patient. Flea market shopping is not a quick fix. It takes perseverance, but the rewards are so worth it!



12. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE BUYING.  Be sure that if you are buying an antique, that it really is what the vendor thinks it is. Educate yourself about the way antiques should look, feel, about hallmarks and backstamps, about patina and the grace of time. There are plenty of really, really good reproductions out there.

There you have it! Use these Flea Market Secrets&  tips and you will be a flea market pro in no time. Have fun if you decide to go to the flea market this spring!







63 thoughts on “Flea Market Secrets |12 Tips to Shop Like a PRO”

  1. Barbara Klyce

    Marche Aux Puces in Paris, France. It’s my favorite flea market.

  2. It is in good part the thrill of the hunt that keeps me going back to flea markets. It is also a wonderful way to explore new areas and people watch (especially in Europe). Am planning on the Arezzo Flea market in the beginning of April. Be still my heart…..

    A crazy question, but do you know of any small local antique markets or second hand shopping areas in Umbria. I am trying to ferret them out but it has been difficult? (We are in Ficulle/Fabro area).

  3. Jay Lane

    Wonderful images inspire me to go on a hunt right now!

  4. Thank you so much for your great list! I love the markets in France and have been lucky on occasion …

  5. Diana Lucas

    Lidy, I’ve seen a lot of flea market shopping tips but these are the best and most concise I’ve come across. I’ve learned several things I didn’t know and that will be most helpful next time I go to a market. Thanks so much for sharing these!

  6. Lidy, your tips are great! I especially agree with having measurements and tools with you. A friend and I go to Brimfield here in Massachusetts. Sometimes we come away with nothing and other times we fill my station wagon! I’ve only gotten to a flea market in Paris once but still have the lovely silver vase I found there. I envy your trips!

  7. Nancy Bailey

    Great tips! This is all very useful info. Hurry flea market season!

  8. Suzanne

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I was in Paris in Oct. and went to a flea market- a dream come true! And what did I buy NOTHING! I still don’t understand it but I didn’t see one thing that I had to have. Sad but true.

  9. Thank you for the great information. I love the picture of the roses in the container surrounded by lady fingers and a velvet ribbon.

  10. Lidy, thank you for sharing these great tips. I usually take a tape measure, but never thought of taking a magnet. That is a wonderful idea! I can’t wait to go shopping! I hope you have a beautiful weekend!!!

  11. Ginger Valdes

    Oh Lidy, so many good tips! Like Shannon, I take measuring tape with me always, but never thought of a magnet. It also seems that a compass might be in order to find your way back to your purchases. Better yet, I’ll take you with me!
    Happy hunting, Ginger

  12. Nancy Smith

    Good Acvice…especially like “tools”…so helpful,

  13. Great tips, Lidy! I have always loved flea markets, tag sales, yard sales. I love to find treasures for my house and garden. Everyone says I have everything and don’t know why I keep shopping. LOL Home and Garden has always been my passion. I’ll just store stuff if I find something I just have to buy! I need to have a big sale myself.

  14. Never commented before…..wonderful post and the photos perfect.
    Brocants and flea markets are my favourite places to visit. Love your blog….


  15. Lidy, as a novice I treasure your advice. Many times I get caught up in the excitement and want to start running and buying, like a kid in a candy store,everything looks delicious!

  16. bobbi duncan

    Lidy, these are all terrific suggestions, and ones I always do to keep sane when so much temptation is staring me in the face. The Brimfield, MA flea market is huge. I try to hit that market every two years if we’re planning a vacation up that way–lots of great stuff! We are enjoying the lovely miniature French portraits we purchased from you last year, and I so love your blog.

  17. Denise

    Lidy, I love, love, love, the hunt. you never know what you’re going to find. I could do this every day all day!!!please enter my name in the drawing. Thanks, Denise

  18. I love the red monogram towels & am wondering where they can be found? Just love the red and white checks & set up in your other photo, too!

  19. Allison Herron

    I Ioved this blog! So sorry I missed meeting you at the charming flea market in Costa Mesa this Saturday. I was with Connie. But, I must say that the late time openings in our Region in Burgundy aren’t the same! We have a friend who gets to the locals at 6:30am! She is done by 9:30am and a happy buyer. I imagine that the dealers in the big cities are different. I enjoyed your ideas very much!

  20. Lidy…I gasped at the first pic of the bowl filled with the smaller ones!…OK..so the next time you go to France…make sure you grab your very large suitcase and I will stow away in it!!!…Or, maybe just for convenience sake, I will fly along with you in a real seat!….Thanks for all of the tips….on our trip to France several years ago, a flea market excursion unfortunately was not on the agenda..but we did go to great places to shop!!

    1. Shirley, you are so cute. Wouldn’t that be so fun? The large bowl and small bowls sold a while ago, they were so handy…I’m picturing them being used for salt, butter, or even a flower vase at each place setting. Thank you for leaving such a fun comment, and always being an encourager, my dear friend!

  21. Gloria

    Foe years I went to many flea markets with my mother-in-law. she never had a magnet. One of the best tips I have heard about shopping at the flea markets. I will make sure I have one in my purse. I know the all the tips will be a great help specially to new hunters.

  22. Maryann Delicata

    Yes, I love the thrill of the hunt too. Great tips and advice and loved all your photos~

  23. This one’s a great list, Lidy! I laughed out loud at the one where the dealer threw the vase to the ground. We sometimes feel so much like that dealer! I also love your comment of dressing too nice = higher prices, as well as possession being 9/10 of the law. Oh gosh, all so true! I use my phone too, and it’s really helped after a long day in an outdoor setting…otherwise you scratch your head and wonder, “where did I spend my cash? did I lose money somewhere?” Everyone should read and re-read this, especially #6!! Have a great day.

  24. Mary Coleman

    Thank you lovely Lidy for our excursion this morning! The phrase I use to soften even the hardest of hearts is: ” may I respectly inquire if this is your kindest price?” I have witnessed( mostly men )absolutely ” thaw” with those words. A soft voice helps also! I overheard this in a beautiful shop on Portobello Road about 25 years ago and have used it ever since. It shows respect on every front ! Keep on making our world more beautiful with your advice and fabulous style.Love from Mary in South Carolina

  25. Candi Duncan

    Some of my best memories of Paris are of the flea markets! Last Sept. in Paris after a day at the flea market I had to buy a suit case to pack everything in. I love seeing my treasures in my home. Thanks for the hints. I too never have carried a magnet.

  26. These are the best tips for flea market shopping I’ve ever heard! We’re buying a new little place in the mountains, so I envision a good bit of flea market shopping in my future–I’m grateful to be armed with this information.

    And I LOVE the admonition you give about our attitudes. I wish everyone would take that advice! Bless you.

    1. Thank you Richella! How exciting to be furnishing a little place in the mountains. xo Lidy

  27. Wow, these are great tips and love all the finds you posted.
    Love that chair, heading to Charleston, SC this Sunday to shop, I call it to go junking.. Ill take these tips in mind. Maria

  28. Jules Berg

    Wow going out on the weekend of March 3… can’t wait… My daughter and I and maybe a few girlfriends we are hitting
    The Great Junk Hunt, Ventura, California….. us girls will be having a blast… No Men…lol….

  29. Willene

    So many good tips but wonder how you carry all those things in the little cross body bags. I’m making a list to use on my next shopping trip. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Oh, no, Willene, that cross body bag is only for the cash! I have my “assistant” Mr. FGH to drive my cart, and tote things to the car and back. 😉

  30. Nancy Scott

    I am inspired by your blog & love the photography of the beautiful antiques. Thx for the great tips! It is wonderful to anticipate an outdoor flea mkt when the winter snow has melted & the temps have warmed.

  31. I love to shop for treasure…and your photos just made me want to buy one of everything!

  32. Julie Watson

    Once that “treasure hunting bug” has bitten, actively hunting and sometimes getting lucky seems to be the only treatment that provides relief. I am always on the lookout for a flea market or second hand store whenever time allows.
    Having your pro tips will certainly help with the getting lucky part. Thank you for sharing your trade secrets with all of us. I have a necklace with a small magnifying glass pendant that is so handy for checking out tiny details.

  33. Headed to one of my fav spots this week, Mt. Dora Flea mkt near Orlando Florida! Always find some great treasures!

  34. Great tips, Lidy and I wish I had learned to love the thrill of the hunt when I was younger, but I’m sure having fun now!

  35. Thank You for your tips! I already do a lot of the things you suggested, but I Love the magnet idea :> Wonderful. Wish we had better Flea Mkts around here, sadly so many have just gotten junky.

  36. Charlene Border

    Great tips on flea market shopping, can’t wait to begin hunting!

  37. Great tips Liddy and I learned a lot of things I didn’t know. That was very interesting that vendors buy from other vendors and then jack up the price!

  38. Linda Fitzgerald

    Thank you for the great tips! I am relatively new to this, and quite sure I would have committed many of the “don’ts”. The magnet idea is inspired!!

    Linda Fitzgerald

  39. Sheila

    In the thrill of the hunt, I’ve learned the fine balance between waiting to find just the right piece – even if takes a lot of time and research to find it and the “you better get this now – it’s too good a deal, and unique to pass up”…I love it when I’ve done my research ahead of time and then go hunting. I know my budget, know the value of the thing I want, and am willing to adjust to a “tweak” if the piece meets all the requirements without being the exact thing. I know I won’t “settle” anymore. It has to be the right piece or I walk. I’ve been rewarded for the wait. .

  40. Debbie

    Sometimes I bring some of my nicer things that I’ve not put to use and offer them (for free) to a nice vendor who is happy to sell them. Good feelings and less clutter. Thanks for the post.

  41. Melanie

    Bringing a magnet is a great idea, but I have no idea where to buy a magnet these days.

  42. Joan Kovach

    Well, you’re never to old to LEARN !!
    Even tho I’ve been to a zillion antique/flea mkts over the years—-Your ADVICE was very informative !!!
    My fav was to “pick-up/hold” the item that catches your eye…….I have lost many a treasure by just “looking” from afar!
    You’re the Bees Knees Chelle………..thanks !!

  43. Laurel

    I love going to the French flea markets and I learned the hard way noy to let go of an item. Excellent tips.

  44. Carole Nichelin

    One of my very favorite blogs,” secrets to shopping a flea market ‘. So very helpful !! One of my favorite flea markets has to be , ” the farm chicks”, in Spokane WA.

  45. Mary Noel

    Loved this post, but, in response to Shirley @Housepitality Designs, the smaller bowls inside the larger one are not antique or vintage. I bought a set new in a kitchen shop in Sonora, CA abut a year ago. Also available were slightly larger bowls, which are perfect for chili or onion soup.

    1. Actually, Mary, the smaller ones ARE vintage ones. These types of bowls have been made in France for quite some time. You can purchase them new, but the ones in the bowl were made by Pillyvuyt, France decades ago. Pillyvuyt has been making exceptional French porcelain since 1818. Unfortunately, their lion head bowls have been copied by many lesser quality factories world wide. You can still purchase new ones made by Pillyvuyt, in sizes from small to HUGE…they are absolutely wonderful!

  46. Linda Stelling

    Lidy, the most gracious of all things is to share. You have that special ability to make us all feel welcome. Your tips on flea markets will remembered next time I get to “hunt”. Bientot!

    1. Linda, that is so very kind of you. I agree, the most gracious of all things is to share. xo Lidy

  47. Krista

    Good advice! It amused me to think of items making their way around the same market with a higher price each time.

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