Flea Market in London Spitalsfields

Flea Markets

Now that it is pleasantly warm again, enjoying a big city flea market is a great way for a classics lover to spend a weekend. Especially in England, you may find exquisite antiques and high quality items rather than the poorly made or roughly used detritus of often found at smaller flea markets. In New York, the Brooklyn Flea Market has made itself a name as an attraction where you can find interesting goods as well as great people and delicious street food. The same is true for Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna, Paris, or any other metropolitan area.

Vintage Uniforms

Vintage Uniforms

Tommy Nutter Glencheck Suit

Tommy Nutter Glencheck Suit

When I was in London last fall, I visited the Spitalsfields Flea Market and was positively surprised. As such, I wanted to introduce you to the market and encourage you to find flea markets in your area. Even if you don’t live close to a large city, it pays to keep your eyes open for events like the Oronoco Gold Rush, in which this tiny southeastern Minnesotan town turns into a massive antique market every year in August.

Timothy Everest Suit with Contrasting Lining

Timothy Everest Suit with Contrasting Lining

What to Buy & What Not to Buy

Unlike remote auctions at Christie’s or eBay, the advantage of a flea market is that you can actually touch, see and inspect the merchandise. So, if you know what you are looking for and have done your research beforehand, you may be lucky enough to come across a vendor that does not know much about their items.

Raclette Sandwich

Raclette Sandwich

For example, I was once able to snap up a whole set of Goyard luggage. I recognized the pattern, closely inspected it for authenticity (an issue you should always be prepared to deal with at flea markets) and was able to purchase them without giving away my level of expertise. On another occasion in Hamburg, I was able to buy a group of Montblanc fountain pensfor only a few Euros. My other inexpensive successes include solid 18K cufflinks, spotless Christian Dior gloves, and rare vintage magazines with fashion illustrations.

Oysters & Champagne

Oysters & Champagne

If you are into interior design, flea markets provide lots of unique inspiration. It’s easy to find a range of interesting pieces such as heavy gilded mirrors, racks of antlers, mounted animal heads, original paintings, lamps, wooden furniture…the list goes on. These things are usually fairly priced and it’s easy to see the value in their condition. On the other hand, I would be more careful with expensive art or wristwatches. At first glance what might be considered a steal may eventually turn out to be a fake, but with some background knowledge you should have fewer problems.

Olives & Turkish Delight

Olives & Turkish Delight

Unlike cufflinks or tie pins, wristwatches are often faked, and popular models like the Rolex Seamaster are often copied to near perfection. In that case, you have to be very careful if you spend a lot of money with a traveling vendor you may never see again. If you are interested in precious metals in any form, it pays to learn how to identify real gold and silver by sight and their markings. Silver, for instance, is often found at flea markets, and there is a big difference between solid silver and silver plating. Learning the hallmarks of the products you’re interested in – especially foreign ones – will serve you well.

It certainly pays to have expertise, otherwise the rare tortoiseshell desk set turns out to be made of horn or even worse, plastic. Also, be aware of overpaying for items. Sometimes vendors have products of famous brands in very poor or broken condition or simply good fakes.  However, they don’t know enough about it to charge accordingly and ask for premium prices.

Caribbean Food

Caribbean Food

At the Spitalsfields Flea Market, they had beautiful old uniforms that would have made great pieces of decoration. Alas, my suitcases were already full. However, the snacks and baked goods were delicious and people were fun and friendly. I expected to see sausages and more basic food, but they had everything from Caribbean stews to various baked goods and Swiss Raclette cheese to Turkish olives.

Beautiful Hat in Velour Finish

Beautiful Hat in Velour Finish

After my late lunch, I was surprised to see a sign that read BESPOKE TAILORED TWEED. As you might well guess, I had to inspect the shop more closely. Although the rack had everything from off the peg dinner jackets to custom tweed, it was particularly fun to focus on the Savile Row pieces. It was like physically sorting through the history of that famous street! They had suits from Anderson & Sheppard, Timothy Everst, Dege & Skinner, Tommy Nutter…

Baked Goods

Baked Goods

It was a lot of fun to see and compare the varying silhouettes of the different houses and eras all in one place. Nutter jackets had wide lapels, with a lot of belly and a good amount of shoulder padding. Everest was trimmer with narrow lapels and a different cut, buttoning point and details, such as the pocket flaps. My observations could go on and I was sorely disappointed not to take anything home with me.

Regardless of your expenditures, a trip to a nice flea market will not only be fun but also very informative and educational.

What are your favorite flea markets and what items did you find there? I look forward to reading your replies in the comments.

7 replies
  1. Jonathan Belmares
    Jonathan Belmares says:

    I love flea markets and antiques fairs i have found many a treasure from them, the majority of my suits come from there. I find that the more regular of a customer you are with some sellers the more of a deal there willing to give you. I also find that waiting till the end of the day to buy things is when you can haggle the most.

  2. Chung Fei Wu
    Chung Fei Wu says:

    Living in Rome, I use to go to Porta Portese the most famous local flea market. I agree with the theory of going very early or very late to make the best deal!

    And when I go to Hong Kong I love to go to “Temple street” and “Ladies market”.

      • Chung Fei Wu
        Chung Fei Wu says:

        You should hurry up to visit Rome and Porta Portese, because soon (actually not really, this is Italy) there will a redevelopment of the area and the market maybe will lose his atmosphere.

  3. ben archer
    ben archer says:

    Dear Sven
    While we applaud the fact that you popularise some well-known London destinations in this article, could you at least spell the place names correctly? That would mean putting only two ‘s’s in Spitalfields and the missing ‘le’ back into Saville Row.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Ben, thanks for your comment. I apologize for the spelling errors, our editor must have overlooked them. However, Savile Row is written with one l and we had just missed the e, not le. Why do you think it has two l? Saville Row – as suggested by you – is most certainly incorrect.

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