I first wrote this list ten years ago, and I’ve repeated it and updated it several times since then. Since flea market season is upon us (I’m headed out early tomorrow for the big Liberty Antiques Market!!) I thought it would be a good time to remind myself of my own rules.
Every year I miss some good stuff at the first market just because I forget to follow my own rules. I thought writing them out might make them stick, kind of like the teacher making you write “I must not chew gum” 100 times!
1. Go prepared. Many of these events are partially or entirely out-of-doors. I keep my VFG totebag packed with a hat, lipgloss, hard candies, tissues and antibacterial lotion. I usually throw in a snack and a bottle of water. Food is often of the junky variety, so a healthy snack that you bring along might be more to your liking. Keep in mind that restroom facilities may be primitive (so stop at the closest fast food place before entering) and handwashing not possible.
2. But don’t take stuff you don’t need. If the fair is in a field, a rolling cart is pretty much useless unless it has very large wheels. Leave your big and full-to-bursting handbag at home, and carry a small bag with just the essentials. I have a little wrist bag that holds just my cash, cards and cell phone. I attach it to my totebag so I won’t accidentally drop it. Do not bring along family members or friends who will slow you down and whine about being bored.
3. Take cash. Many vendors will take a check, but few take credit or debit cards, and they don’t give the best deals if they have to pay bank fees. Most big flea markets do have an atm, so credit cards can be handy. Try to have a stash of small bills for cheap purchases.
4. Dress comfortably. For now and the fall, layers are great. The mornings are cool, but the afternoons hot. And wear comfortable walking shoes that you are not afraid to get dirty! If it has been rainy and the event is out of doors, take a pair of rubber boots.
5. Identify yourself. With your clothing, I mean. I carry a Vintage Fashion Guild tote that has a logo that identifies me as a person who is interested in fashion items. I also often wear a Scottie dog pin, as I also collect Scottie items. Dealers notice these things, and will offer you things you might have overlooked.
6. Buy it when you see it. I don’t care how big it is, I don’t care that your arms are full, I don’t care that the vendor is very busy and you are in a big hurry. If you spot something that you intend to buy, do NOT leave the booth without buying it. If you do, one of the following will happen – You will forget about the item until you are half way home. You will go back to the booth just in time to see another buyer happily paying for YOUR item. You will forget where the booth is and spend hours searching for it a second time, but never finding it. Trust me on this one. If I had time I’d tell you about the 1920s velvet cape with a Paris label, but it always makes me cry.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Most dealers will give you at least 10%, and if it is near the end of the show, often they will offer quite a bit more. But be nice and not demanding. Please, don’t be greedy. If the price is $1, just pay it! If you pull a pristine Pucci scarf out of a box of ratty old linens, please give the guy his $2 asking price. It’s good Karma.
8. Ask dealers if they have what you are seeking. If you find a dealer who seems to have a lot of vintage clothing, or whatever you want, ask if he or she has more. Chances are they do, and chances are you’ll be going to other fairs where that dealer will be selling.
9. Carry some of your business cards and give them to anyone who might have leads on what you are looking for. Even if you are not in a “business”, you need business cards if you collect or blog.
10. Inspect items carefully. I’ve been known to get so carried away with a find that I neglected to give it a good going-over. This can lead to heartbreak when you get home and realize half of the 1920s Vogue bargain magazine was used to make paper dolls.