“I love that everything you buy in a brocante has a story,” Jackie Kai Ellis tells me over the phone. “You really get a snapshot of history.”
The Vancouver native, who has a design background, moved to Paris and has become a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to second-hand shopping—or brocante in French. The city is brimming with flea markets, antique markets, and brocantes, replete with everything from packages of socks to postcards and storied dressers.
Related Reading: A Local’s Tips on Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in Paris
Along with towering pieces of furniture and framed lithographs, these markets are actually a haven for the culinary-inclined, teeming with crystal glasses, knives and forks and spoons of all shapes and utilities, and antiquated serving platters you’d be hard-pressed to find in your local cooking store. Visiting these unique markets is the best kind of activity for anyone looking to pick up one-of-a-kind dinnerware or entertaining pieces you simply would never find anywhere else.
“People will have things in their attic that are so beautiful, and they just don’t see the beauty anymore,” Jackie explains. “What I love about brocante is you can find these raw, hidden gems that are unexpected because it’s sitting among all this junk. But then you see something that’s really inspiring, and it’s cool to repurpose that and see beauty in a totally different facet.”
Over the last few years, Jackie has done just that. She peruses the many markets, searching for new items to include in her now Instagram-famous Paris apartment (check out that kitchen!). The apartment has since been featured in many publications as design and secondhand heaven, and Jackie admits that many people have become incredibly fascinated by the kinds of things she brings into her home.
Related Reading: 10 Must-Buy Food Souvenirs You’ll Want to Bring Back from France
For those who have never practiced the art of brocante shopping in Paris, Jackie is here to help. Below, she provides some of her best tips and tricks for navigating the second-hand brocante scene in Paris.
Know Your Metal Objects
There will be plenty of metal objects scattered throughout these markets, but it’s usually easy to tell if it’s good quality or not. The easiest test is simply lifting something up: If it’s heavier than it looks, solid, and a little more durable, it’s a high quality item. If it’s very light and hollow, it’s not good quality.
Test If Something’s Really Crystal—Or If It’s Just Glass
It’s all about the sound, Jackie reveals. Crystal resonates and has more of a chiming sound, while glass clunks. The thinner the crystal is, the finer it is. Just tap two products together (gently!) and you’ll hear the sound.
Coofig Eco-Friendly Cotton Net Shopping Bag, $12.99 on Amazon
If You Don’t Live in France, You Can Still Bring Home the Goods
Just because you have to carry everything home in a suitcase doesn’t mean you can’t bring a piece of Paris back with you. Before she lived in Paris, Jackie would truck home old botanical drawings (those are easy to slip into your luggage), cool cutlery, and previously sent postcards.
For the Adventurous, Head to the Non-Touristy Markets
The north of Paris is particularly known for a trove of huge, super touristy, super pricey flea markets, but Jackie says the best ones are within the city limits. They house the most interesting and unique items, buoyed by stories from French locals. Plus, the sellers in these markets are more likely to barter with tourists.
On the Topic of Bartering, Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate Price
Although the sellers in the bigger markets are generally unwilling to barter (they’re under the assumption that tourists will buy whatever they’re hawking anyway), the smaller, more intimate ones are up for the challenge. In France, sellers like to barter with a bit of humor and respect—it’s not impolite.
Finally, Don’t Worry About Authenticity
Jackie often reminds people not to fret if they’re not getting the real thing. If you’re there as a tourist, just think: Did I get a good price, and do I love it? “If you love it,” Jackie says, “just buy it.”
For more on the Paris brocante scene, catch Jackie on Chowhound’s Instagram this weekend as she guides us through her favorite markets and unveils her shopping tips and tricks.
Header image courtesy of Kolderal/Moment Unreleased/Getty Images.