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An Insider Look at Flea Market Shopping

flea market

When people ask me “What style decor is your home?”, I always answer “Vintage flea market decor”. It’s true. I am sure the majority of the items in my home were bought at a flea market. I have been shopping at vintage flea markets for about thirty years and today I am going to share with you some of my insider tips to flea market shopping.

If you look at the photo of our back porch, there are twenty-two items in this photo that I bought at a flea market. So trust me, I know how to shop a flea market.

flea market finds

How to Find a Flea Market Near You

I primarily shop at flea markets in California but I have been to Brimfield in Massachutses and Round Top in Texas. If you are looking for a flea market in your area, House Beautiful published a great article this summer called “The Absolute Coolest Flea Market in Your State”. Some of the best flea markets are small so be sure to google flea markets (or swap meets) in your area. There are a lot of lists online of “The Best Flea Markets” but I looked at them and was disappointed. Any list that doesn’t have the Rose Bowl Flea Market listed in California is not worth reading. You might have more luck asking your local antique store owners where the best flea markets are in your area.

flea market vintage shopping

Tips on Shopping at a Flea Market

  1. Get there early. The die-hard shoppers arrive early and a lot of the good stuff is sold in the first hour of the show. I have been to plenty of flea markets in the dark when the vendors were unloading their trucks. It may cost a few more dollars to get in early but it’s worth it to find the best products, beat the crowds and park close by! 
  2. Bring cash. Most flea markets have ATM machines but come prepared with cash. A lot of the vendors take credit cards but you don’t want to miss out on a great find if the vendor only takes cash.
  3. Come prepared. Bring a cart with some bags. Wear comfortable shoes. Dress in layers. Bring water. Bring a tape measure.
  4. Measure before you come. If you are looking for a table in your entryway, measure the space in advance. In fact, measure all of the potential areas in your home that might need an antique find.
  5. Negotiate in a kind and friendly way. I usually ask, “what is your best price?”. It’s a kind way of asking for a deal.

flea market swap meet

Repurpose Things

It is rare that I use a vintage flea market purchase for the purpose it was originally intended. I use these metal tool and lunch boxes to hold napkins, magazines, remote controls, and flowers. I have purchased many items at a flea market because I loved them, even though I had no idea what to do with them. That’s what makes flea market shopping so much fun. Repurposing is really fun to do.

swap meet flea market flea market shopping

Vintage Finds Are Not Perfect

When you buy a vintage item, you may have to take it home and give it some TLC. This photo in my craft room has two items that I refurbished. This worktable was turquoise when I bought it. Yikes! I sanded the top and repainted the base and the transformation is remarkable. The entire makeover is in my blog post, Restoring a Flea Market Table. The tool chest on the left was covered in auto grease. I cleaned it and spray painted the entire cabinet. 

rose bowl flea market

My favorite makeover of a flea market find was the coffee table in my living room. The wooden chest was dark originally dark brown. I painted it with milk paint and then nailed two vintage ceiling tiles on the top. I absolutely love it. You should read my post the DIY Coffee Table Makeover blog post.


Do Your Homework

It is important to know a little bit about the items you are hoping to buy. If you want to start collecting transferware do some research online and find out what the average sale price is on eBay. If you know anyone that already collects the item you want, reach out and ask them what prices you should expect to pay. Also, find out how you can tell if the item is authentic and not a reproduction. There are a lot of items at flea markets, especially wood and metal items that look like they are vintage and from France and yet they are reproductions from Mexico.

Most importantly, have fun. There is something about hunting at a flea market that I love. I ignore the junk and look for the treasures. Because if you look hard enough, you will always find them.

And by the way, I counted 79 flea market items in this blog post. Can you find them?

antique swap meet

If you are looking for more information on Flea Markets, you might enjoy My Flea Market Finds and Decorating a Room With Flea Market Finds. I also wrote one of my favorite posts Why You Need a Summer Bar Cart.

3 Responses

  1. These are great suggestions! I used many of them this past weekend in fact. Someone mentioned that the Wednesday Ventura Market is really good. I had no idea, what do you think?

  2. You are such an inspiration Leslie!! I never knew I LOVED vintage things till I started following you on Instagram and your blog!!! I have started looking and shopping at our Market Days here in town every first Saturday of the month and boy, what a beauty of things there are when you don’t look at them as junk! Hahaha

    Thank you soooo much for sharing so much with all us!! I’m from Deep South Texas and I have NEVER been to Roundtop, but it’s on my bucket list!!

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I'm Leslie,
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