If your overseas holiday shopping is starting to look a bit same-same with cookie-cutter high-street chains, fast fashion outlets and duty-free buys, it’s time to leave the sanitised confines of the malls and souvenir shops for the streets. Dedicated followers of fashion know there’s no greater rush than the thrill of finding that one-of-a-kind piece, and that high won’t be found in a department store, my friend. Instead, head to one of these famous flea markets where vintage wares, quirky finds and yes, the perfect holiday memento are just a rummage away. Elbows out – here’s where to look.
Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, Paris
The grand-père of all flea markets is the aristocratic-sounding Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, literally ‘flea market’, which actually comprises 15 markets and over 1,500 stalls specialising in different types of antiques. Dauphine is one of the largest markets with 180 dealers purveying a selection of furniture, books and objets d'art from the 17th to the 20th century, while the Paul Bert Serpette Market is an intriguing source of ephemera from tribal art to unique jewellery. Opening hours vary, so check before you go.
Rose Bowl Flea Market, Pasadena
If you are seeking classic Americana, California’s famous Rose Bowl Flea Market is your holy grail. Held on the second Sunday of every month, parking at the stadium is free but there’s a $US9 entry fee per person. With over 2,500 vendors, the doors open at 8am so you can nab your collectable pieces before the cast of American Pickers. There’s a reason why celebs love to shop here - think perfectly broken-in cowboy boots, the softest vintage Levi’s, classic Hawaiian shirts and heaps of quirky bits and pieces. They’ve thought of everything – there’s even a make-your-own-bloody-mary bar!
Tips for effective flea market shopping:
- Bring cash - don't rely on ATMs or vendors having credit card facilities.
- Check the opening hours - some flea markets have early starts so make sure you get there early to pick over the best stuff.
- Pack snacks - you'll need the sustenance to sift through musty books and old trinkets.
- Wear your walking shoes - some flea markets are spread over a huge area so you'll need footwear to go the distance.
- Get a map - don't get lost in the labyrinthine maze of alleys and aisles. Also note down the market stall number of any vendors of interest so you can easily find your way back there later.
- Wear your 'trying-on' clothes - you know, the ones that you can easily whip off to try on gear in a makeshift changeroom i.e. a loose dress.
- Know your sizes - especially important when buying vintage clothing. Note your US, UK and European clothing and shoe sizes as well as your measurements in centimetres and inches.
Portobello Road Market, London
Set amid the colourful buildings of ‘trustafarian’ enclave Notting Hill, the Portobello Road Market shares the same eclectic style, specialising in antiques and collectibles from antiquities to the ‘70s. Saturday is the busiest day, and serious antique collectors should head to the section from Chepstow Villas to Elgin Cresent, while the so-called Fashion Market is located around the Westaway area with plenty of vintage bags, dresses and coats plus fledgling designer gear to paw over (fun fact: Notting Hill Market is where design duo sass & bide first started out).
Fería de San Pedro Telmo, Buenos Aires
The upmarket Buenos Aires barrio of San Telmo is renowned as the birthplace of the tango, but it’s also known for antiques. On Sundays from 10am to 5pm, get ready to rummage at Fería de San Pedro Telmo in Plaza Dorrego where some 20,000 shoppers converge on the 270-odd stalls heaving with an array of leathergoods (one of Argentina’s most famous exports), jewellery, antique bottles, traditional clothing, silverware, maté cups, old photos and even vintage telephones. There’s also the odd impromptu tango display too.
Yoyogi Flea Market,Tokyo
When it comes to collectors, the Japanese know their stuff, after all, they started the craze for raw selvedge denim and other covetable fashionable pieces. To steal some of that Tokyo hipster style for yourself, head to the flea market in Yoyogi Park (Yoyogi Kōen) where around 800 vendors sell must-have items such as secondhand kimono and yukata, vintage tea ceremony bowls, delicate ceramics, pre-loved fashion and even military souvenirs from suitcases on the ground. Yoyogi Kōen is across from Harajuku Station so it's also the domain of cosplayers and where you can spy various other youth street fashion tribes.