When I hear the phrase "flea market" I conjure up fond memories of visiting my grandmother in Florida, taking day long trips to the indoor flea market. Once there, I would pick up puffy-paint splattered Keds, plastic watches, costume jewelry, and other random goodies I once thought made me cool. As I got older, the allure of the flea market faded, and I sourced my fashion choices from more mainstream retailers.
Between growing up in suburban Maryland and going to college in the Midwest, flea markets were not a common weekend destination. However, upon moving to New York, brimming with a plethora of street fairs and open air flea markets, my latent desire for bargain prices and one-of-a-kind pieces was rekindled.
In the summer, there are what seems like a million street fairs to choose from. Take a short walk around your neighborhood and you'll be sure to encounter at least one. Most of the time, however, the best part of a street fair is....well....the fare. With an abundance of smoothies, fruit, and funnel cake, you can easily inhale your weekly calories in a mere 20 minutes.
One summer, spending a day walking around the Upper West Side with my cousin, we stumbled upon the Greenflea flea market on Columbus Avenue between 76th and 77th Streets. Within a few minutes of our arrival, it was clear to me this was not the kind of flea market I was used to patronizing. Where were the tan grandmothers? Where were the wearers of fuchsia lipstick and fanny packs? What I did find, however, was a wonderful selection of artisan booths, vintage clothing and accessories, and random decorative nick knacks.
On my first visit, I picked up a beautiful little charm necklace by Belle Costes - delicate yet funky - and for only $55. Okay, so that is not super cheap in the grand scheme of things, but for a one of a kind necklace that no one else has or will ever have, I think it's a great deal. And despite having purchased it over two years ago, I still get compliments every time I wear it.
My second trip to Greenflea was with my parents, about a year later. We had wandered upon it and I convinced my mother and father that it would be worth a look. This time, I managed to walk away with another Belle Costes necklace, one with a chunkier antique look, that could be warn two different ways.
A little pricier at $65, I thought it was a steal. Another great vendor at the market, were the leather craftsmen of De Palma. Both my mother and I scored some fabulous handmade leather belts at $75 each.
One of the best things about splurging a little on one-of-a-kind pieces, is that it provides a unique addition to your outfit. And if there is one thing I adore, it is getting the opportunity to answer the question "Where did you get that?" with "A flea market" (but antique store, European country--or any other foreign country for that matter--will do). Nothing says personal style like owning something that is as completely individual as you are.
Finally, on my last visit to the flea market, I came away with my most bargain of finds. All fall season I had been dying for an oversized costume jewelry cocktail ring, and had my eye on this fantastic crystal studded Kenneth Jay Lane Tiger.
Unfortunately, at the ridiculous price of $198 (although I stupidly turned down an $85 price tag at a store where the tag was missing and the sales help were clueless), I was not about to purchase it. Luckily for me, I found the perfect alternative at the flea market, for the low price of $18, and am guaranteed to not spot another sporting my vintage piece.
Although I am not advocating that you spend your life savings on a fabulous wardrobe, I have nothing against a few splurges here and there for items no one else is going to have. However, it is possible to find great unique pieces for a price that is easy to swallow. Personal style is priceless, but while our creativity may be limitless, our credit cards certainly are not.