Last Updated on 25th September 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
If you’ve ever spent any time during France during Brocante season (i.e. the late summer right through until Early fall), then no doubt you’ll have spied the little white tents, under which vendors from all corners of l’Hexagone (and often beyond) sell their wares. From vintage apparel to second-hand treasures, here’s your ultimate French antique market guide; including what to buy at a brocante.
What is a Brocante? (French Antiques Flea Market)
Brocantes are typically held outdoors in the open-air, though are occasionally held in enclosed venues such as community halls, church buildings, and indoor wrought-iron market places known as ‘Halles’ in French.
The word ‘Brocante’ in French originates from the verb ‘brocanter,’ which means ‘to deal in second-hand goods’. Though the literal translation of ‘brocante’ into English is ‘secondhand market,’ the kind of wares you can expect to find depend entirely on the season you’re going, the place you’re visiting, and the exact goods advertised.
You should also note that the term ‘second-hand’ is not synonymous with ‘cheap’. Indeed, while there are plenty of bargains to be found when looking to purchase at a brocante, this doesn’t mean the goods aren’t expensive! If you’re looking to secure a vintage designer handbag or expensive jewellery, then you can expect to pay for a fair deal, not a cheap one!
If you’re looking for where brocantes are being held in Paris each weekend (typically in the summer and early autumn), be sure to check out the spam.fr website. Other phrases you might expect to find when searching for brocantes to visit include other types of second-hand goods sales. There are as follows;
Vide-grenier is literally translated into English as ‘attic emptying and this is perhaps where you’re most likely to pick up a good bargain. As opposed to visiting a brocante, where many of the sellers are professional dealers, a vide-grenier is typically where individuals will be selling things from their homes such as toys, books, second-hand clothes and the like, in a bid to empty their clutter and make a little cash on the side.
Typically found in the Northern parts of France, braderie sales happen several times a year and is when established shops set out their wares at a reduced price outside of their storefronts. These street markets typically happen in Belgium, the Netherlands, and to the North-Eastern parts of France, such as in Metz and Lille. Braderies are often accompanied by outdoor music concerts and mobile food vendors.
Marché aux Puces/ Les Puces
Pretty similar in style to Brocantes, Marché aux Puces (or flea markets) are typically where professional sellers will vend their wares such as vintage clothing/ accessories, furniture, books and historic maps, artwork (though the quality of this is often questionable!), ceramics, and the like.
The largest Marché-aux-Puces in the world is that of Saint-Ouen in the suburbs of Paris and, each weekend, dozens of sellers sell everything second-hand. Marché-aux-Puces are set up in a similar way to traditional French markets, though do not tend to sell any food (in the same way that you would expect from a traditional food market).
When is brocante/ flea market season in France?
We’ve all heard of the term ‘spring cleaning,’ but when it comes to finding a good deal at a fleamarket or brocante, then the best time to go searching is in the summer months. Drive through France for any amount of time and it won’t be long before you spy the signs (normally hand-painted) advertising brocantes.
You’ll know you’re in the right place when you spy the open-fronted white tents with goods spilling out the front. In smaller communities, the brocantes are a full-day out, with food for sale and many families working together to sell their goods.
Wherever you’re going, be sure to keep an eye on your belongings, as brocantes can often become quite crowded and pickpockets being present is always a possibility. Last but not least, it’s worth noting that brocantes typically take place on weekends (from Fridays through to Sundays) and will typically be from 9 am or 10 am in the morning up until around 7 pm in the evening.
What to buy at a French Brocante
Vintage maps and postcards
From historic page templates to maps dating back to the 1800s, you’ll often find an entire stall dedicated to vintage maps, postcards, and prints, when visiting a brocante market in France. Looking for a cheaper souvenir? Consider purchasing a small postcard, typically at the cost of just a few euros.
Vintage Clothing/ Accessories
From second-hand pieces to designer vintage, almost every brocante offers up at least one chance to peruse through some clothing pieces. My favourite brocantes are those with a good blend of mens and womenswear, as well as those with cheap(er) clothing as well as designer pieces which are a true wardrobe investment.
Most stalls will not have the prices on the items and so you’ll have to bargain with the vendor over individual clothing prices. You’re more likely to get a better deal if you’re purchasing multiple items in one go. Be prepared to haggle but don’t offer up a lowball offer on being given a potential price; no one will take you seriously!
Tableware & Glasses
Truth be told, if you’re looking to furnish your home with vintage wares at reasonable rates, then one of the best things to pick up at a brocante is tableware. Whether it be champagne glasses, chipped porcelain plates (that you’ll find for quite the steal), or a fine carafe in which to serve your guests wine or water (depending on the time of the day!), there is no shortage of treasures to be found at brocantes.
If you live in a slightly larger apartment than I do (in central Paris, apartments are the size of a shoebox and you learn to love minimalism very quickly!), then you may well be on the lookout for some vintage, antique, or second-hand furniture.
One of my absolute favourite to pick up in a flea market are books. From second-hand paperbacks you can purchase for an absolute steal to vintage and historical tomes that will make for a great accent piece to your bookshelf, there’s no telling what you’ll find next when you’re digging through the boxes. While some books are clearly priced, for others you’ll have to haggle with the seller. Again, if you’re purchasing multiple goods from the same seller, you’ll likely get a better price.