Raised by a pair of antique collectors, French brocantes feel like home to me, and as a history aficionado and
researcher, I love furnishing my home with sustainably curated pieces that contain a cultural and socio-historical
provenance! That being said, French brocantes can be rather difficult to navigate even if you do know what you’re
looking for so I’ve created this little guide to help you out on your next excursion!
To clarify, not all second hand shopping in France is encapsulated in the term “brocante” - there are several types
of second-hand stores:
- Brocante: Brocantes are open air flea-markets that are found in and around Paris as well as throughout France.
- Vide-grenier: These are essentially yard-sales and might be organized by the inhabitants of a certain quartier
so they can clean out their apartments. Transactions in vide-greniers are very fluid and can consist of cash or
trade depending on what’s on offer.
- Un marché aux puces:
- Braderie: “Braderie” officially translates to “clearance sale,” but the term is often used to describe a very
cheap sale particularly within second hand markets but are often available at les grands magasins as well during
sale seasons: a brocante might have a braderie section where all of the items are under 5 euros.
- Friperie: Specializes in second hand clothing, such as the chain “Frip’Star,” which has several locations
scattered throughout Le Marais and the neighboring Les Halles district, usually with 1 euro bins!
1. Bring Cash!
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
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
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
voice that the best I could do was five euros. Many vendors are trying to liquidate their items so they will accept
lower offer but probably on the third or fourth attempt at a bargain - very rarely on the first, so you must be
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
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
applies to clothing items where holes, broken zippers, or loose seams might not be as apparent initially, especially
you are being pressured by a bumptious vendor who just wants you to pay and leave or if you are just overwhelmed by
sheer enormity of the crowd. Most vendors are quite friendly but sometimes the social pressure to buy overtakes you
you end up with a defective item that you can’t use or resell - so breathe, take your time, and thoroughly examine
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
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
are severely overestimating the value of “designer” items and their exclusivity. Many brocantes have vendors will
dedicated to the resale of designer items such as Hermés belts, Louis Vuitton Noé bags, Dior boots, and more for
decent prices. If you are concerned about their authenticity, the best thing to do is your own research as vendors
always deceive you. For example, if you’re looking for a vintage Cartier watch, familiarize yourself with the
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
you’re interested in. I collect Chloé pieces at a recent Brocante in the 10th arrondissement I stumbled upon a
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
saved on the resale sites Vestiaire Collective and Vinted with the prices ranging from 60 euros to 200 euros so when
shopkeeper told me this bag, which had been left out in the rain and had a broken zipper, was selling for 150 euros,
price that was unavailable for negotiation, I knew that it was a rip-off. Obviously you do not need to become
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
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
found your dream vintage Corbusier set of 3 cendriers (ash trays), or the perfect gold necklace with a Rococo
Often, I’ve noticed people make the mistake of only pursuing objects that are obviously French, like a kitschy
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
an explicitly detailed erotic painting on the lid from the 1920s, make more of a statement particularly if they
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
spill up the neighboring streets (75011), and at avenue Trudaine continuing down Rue des Martyrs (75009) . I have
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
paper and cushioning to wrap your valuables for the journey home. Check the prices of international shipping on the
Poste website before sending them home if they don’t fit in your luggage as shipping can be quite expensive!