Paris Brocantes: An Insider’s Guide to Bargain Shopping in the Popular Flea...

Paris Brocantes: An Insider’s Guide to Bargain Shopping in the Popular Flea Markets

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flea markets
© Cléophée Poli

It’s crazy how life comes full circle sometimes! After coming back to Paris two years ago to start a family, I found myself reconnecting with my roots. My parents worked in this industry when I was a child and now, finding original pieces is an integral part of my job as an interior designer. I scout flea markets regularly, visiting familiar faces from my childhood to say, “Bonjour!”, in search of the perfect decorative items for our clients.

I’ve spent almost a decade living overseas and I’ve tried them all. The yard sales in the US, the “op’ shops” in Australia, and the car boots in the UK, nothing quite compares to French flea markets. It’s about the atmosphere and it all happens on the beautiful streets of Paris! It’s hustling and bustling and over here, we call them brocantes.

From bric-a-brac to antiques, vintage clothing to art discoveries, the hunt is as exciting as the find.

Paris-based interior designer at home in flea markets. Photo courtesy of author

Knowing how to thrift shop in Paris can unearth extraordinary discoveries at affordable prices. Here are some pro tips to help you enjoy this quintessential French treasure hunt.

Know when and where 

Brocantes in Paris (and the rest of France) happen mainly over the weekend. Depending on what you’re after, you might be able to find a few on weekdays but those ones are mainly for specific collectors (postcards, stamps, books…). They go all year long but there are fewer options in the winter and over the summer school holidays. From spring to autumn, you might have four or five different ones in Paris on the same day. Check this online calendar for the dates you’d like to go treasure hunting, it will give you a list of brocantes for that day/weekend.

What one person may consider worthless could be highly prized or valued by someone else. © Cléophée Poli

Top flea markets in Paris   

In my personal opinion, the best brocantes will be the ones happening on the streets of Paris. They are commonly called Vide-Greniers (“empty-attic”) or Marché aux Puces (market of the fleas; a wink to the used goods on sale). These are run by both Particuliers and Professionnels.

What does this mean?

Particulier: This is your average neighbor or friend, who wants to get rid of that board game no one plays with anymore, that lamp that ended up in the basement, or all of those clothes they never wear and finally decided to clear out of their wardrobe. They usually sell cheap, like, really cheap!

Professionnels: As you can guess, these are the professional merchants in the flea markets. They sell art, antiques, mid-century modern furniture, jewelry, you name it; it’s their biz’ and they know what they’re talking about! Prices are usually more expensive in their stalls but if you buy a  piece of art or a mirror they will often be able to tell you all about the period, the artist/designer, and the movement it belongs to. Sometimes you might even get a cool anecdote about the object you’re buying.

Paris Flea Market
© Shutterstock

Here is a list of a few great places where you can source items outside of weekends:

Make a wishlist

There is so much on display so it’s good to have some direction during your hunt. Let’s say you are looking to buy frames, vintage kitchen utensils, a mirror, and a pair of boots.

With your list in mind, your eyes will know what to look for.

You can (and will) get distracted and find things that you didn’t expect to entice you or don’t need but this way, you will keep your aim in mind.

© Cléophée Poli

Have your kit ready! 

Thrifting in Paris always involves a lot of walking, so the first thing that is needed is a comfortable pair of shoes. The point of going to this kind of shopping place is to buy objects, so bring a few bags with you. A backpack is highly recommended as it allows you to keep both hands free so that you can look through various boxes and baskets. Bring a few extras as well since some vendors don’t have any bags or offer really small ones.

Also, don’t forget to bring cash!

Ask the price before looking interested  

This is one of the first things my parents taught me. The sellers packed all of their boxes, arrived very early, laid everything out and they want to go home with an empty car. They are here to sell! If you show your friend an item and demonstrate how much you love and want it, there will be very little room left for negotiation. The seller knows he’s got you hooked. If, for example, you see a pair of boots you love by a brand you covet, ask even before trying it on.

Bargain, bargain, bargain!
Because it would be a waste of your money not to.

Paris street flea markets are popular in the fall and spring.© Cléophée Poli

Down on the streets, everyone negotiates prices, or at least almost everyone – I know I do! Every single price you are given, offer less. Here is how most transactions can go:

  • Bonjour, how much is this?
  • It’s 10 euros
  • Can you make it 5?
  • Oh no, 8
  • 6?
  • Alright, 7 euros will be my last price.
  • Deal!

There you go, you just saved 3euros! I actually can’t help myself and always ask the sellers if that’s reaaaally the lowest they can go with the widest smile on my face. It’s always worth a try. At the end of the day, you will go home and manage to deceive yourself into thinking that you actually saved money!

© Cléophée Poli

Relax and enjoy your bonheur of the day

Now that your wallet is almost empty, time to chill. Complete your trip à la Parisienne and find a brasserie with a terrace in the sun, order a coffee and a croissant or a well-deserved apéritif to enjoy your new little treasures.

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