by Fiona McMurrey

1. Bring Cash!

Image courtesy of France Channel.

Most vendors will request payment in cash as there are not as many processing fees as are incurred and are associated with cashapps or even the maintenance of card machines. It also gives you a wonderful chance to practice those ever difficult French numbers!

2. Practice Your French!

Vendors are less likely to over charge you if you have at least a decent knowledge of conversational French or at the very least ask the price in French and make a subsequent quippy remark about the price if it wasn't what you expected or is clearly an overestimation of the item’s worth. Some useful phrases include:

  • C’est combien? : How much is this?
  • Ça fait combien? : How much is that?
  • Non, c’est trop cher : No, it’s too expensive.
  • C’est parfait merci! : That’s perfect, thank you.
  • On peut faire 10 euros? : Can we do 10 euros?
  • Puis-je prendre une photo? : Can I take a photo? (alternatively: Je pourrais prendre une photo? : Could I take a photo?)

I would include a list of object words for items you may encounter at a Brocante but they are truly so invariably miscellaneous and sometimes you may not even know the word for them in English, so a good understanding of demonstrative pronouns and prepositions in France should be sufficient!

3. Don’t be afraid to haggle over the price!

That’s how I scored a stunning mid century crystal ashtrash for five euros by talking the vendor down from fifteen, through an alleged (but nonexistent) crack in the glass, to rummaging through my bag for coins and explaining in a timid voice that the best I could do was five euros. Many vendors are trying to liquidate their items so they will accept a lower offer but probably on the third or fourth attempt at a bargain - very rarely on the first, so you must be persistent!

4. Check the Items for any defects

All items at Brocantes are non-returnable so be sure to thoroughly analyze them before purchasing! Most items might have a small acceptable defect, such as a scratch or a tiny chipped base or enamel in the case of porcelain and other ceramics, glass might be glazed with dust, while jewelry might simply be tarnished. However, this advice particularly applies to clothing items where holes, broken zippers, or loose seams might not be as apparent initially, especially if you are being pressured by a bumptious vendor who just wants you to pay and leave or if you are just overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the crowd. Most vendors are quite friendly but sometimes the social pressure to buy overtakes you and you end up with a defective item that you can’t use or resell - so breathe, take your time, and thoroughly examine your intended purchase!

5. Don’t be afraid to try on clothing items

If you're with a friend or a partner, ask them to hold your bag and try on a blouse over your shirt, or a jacket, or those Chanel boots that you suspect are fake but can’t be totally sure! You’ll be surprised by how different a coat actually looks on your body than it does in the blissful delusion of your imagination - you’ll save yourself suitcase space and plenty of money!

6. Do some research on determining fakes, and know the original value of an item!

I’ve heard some people say that they don’t expect to find any authentic designer items at streetside Brocantes but they are severely overestimating the value of “designer” items and their exclusivity. Many brocantes have vendors will tents dedicated to the resale of designer items such as Hermés belts, Louis Vuitton Noé bags, Dior boots, and more for rather decent prices. If you are concerned about their authenticity, the best thing to do is your own research as vendors can always deceive you. For example, if you’re looking for a vintage Cartier watch, familiarize yourself with the monikers of the real thing versus the fake with one of many guides available through a quick google search! Another piece of advice with regard to designer goods is to conduct a bit of research on the resale value of the items you’re interested in. I collect Chloé pieces at a recent Brocante in the 10th arrondissement I stumbled upon a gorgeous liver chestnut leather Paddington bag which, at its debut in 2005 during the tenure of the visionary Phoebe Philo, retailed for around $1,500 - cheaper than a Chanel but more than capable of breaking the bank. I had a few of the bags saved on the resale sites Vestiaire Collective and Vinted with the prices ranging from 60 euros to 200 euros so when the shopkeeper told me this bag, which had been left out in the rain and had a broken zipper, was selling for 150 euros, a price that was unavailable for negotiation, I knew that it was a rip-off. Obviously you do not need to become acquainted with the entire history of one brand or multiple in order to be a savvy shopper, but rather that if you are pursuing vintage designer goods or antique collectible pieces, you should do a bit of research on their resale value so you know you’re getting the best bang for your buck!

7. Have an open mind and choose something meaningful to you!

Second hand shopping is a mercurial sport at best and depends entirely on luck so don’t be discouraged if you haven’t found your dream vintage Corbusier set of 3 cendriers (ash trays), or the perfect gold necklace with a Rococo pendant! Often, I’ve noticed people make the mistake of only pursuing objects that are obviously French, like a kitschy tchotchke emblazoned with a beret or a French flag or a poster sold from a vendor that specializes in counterfeit posters just because they feel like they simply MUST buy something as they made the effort to visit the Brocante. Small pieces like a cigarette case from la Belle Époque, a simple vase from Provence, or a porcelain medicine box with an explicitly detailed erotic painting on the lid from the 1920s, make more of a statement particularly if they inspire an inside joke between you and your companion or if you can envisage yourself keeping them for a long period of time - just because you’re buying second hand doesn’t mean you’re resisting the cycle of hyper-consumption so make sure to choose something that is meaningful to you!

8. The best regular brocantes!

My personal favorites are the regular Brocantes that pop up in Places des Vosges (75004), along boulevard Voltaire and spill up the neighboring streets (75011), and at avenue Trudaine continuing down Rue des Martyrs (75009) . I have also lived in these arrondissements so I may be more than a little biased!

9. Wrap your items for the journey home!

One mistake to never make with antiques is forgetting to package them correctly and having your new treasure inadvertently destroyed by a heavy book in your bag! Stores like Hema or Sostrene Grene have plenty of cheap wrapping paper and cushioning to wrap your valuables for the journey home. Check the prices of international shipping on the La Poste website before sending them home if they don’t fit in your luggage as shipping can be quite expensive!