Why Is It Called a ‘Flea Market’?

Ever wonder how the term ‘flea market’ got its name? Why would anyone want to name their shopping experience after those jumpy little bloodsuckers? While open-air markets are centuries old and well documented, the origin of the term ‘flea market’ has been generally obscured by history.


Today there are three main theories. The first is that ‘flea market’ is barrowed from the French phrase marché aux puces, literally translated as “market of the fleas.” In the 1998 winter edition of Today’s Flea Market magazine, author Albert LaFarge wrote that the term likely originated from “an outdoor bazaar in Paris, France, named after those pesky little parasites of the order Siphonaptera (or ‘wingless bloodsucker’) that infested the upholstery of old furniture brought out for sale.”


Another theory appeared in the book Flea Market, published by Chartwell Books in Europe. In the introduction, the author speculated that boulevards in Paris were reconstructed to accommodate military marches around the year 1860. This pushed merchants into areas north of the city where they constructed vending stalls to sell their goods and wares. “The gathering together of all these exiles from the slums of Paris was soon given the name ‘marché aux puces’, meaning ‘flea market.’”


Still others contend that the term isn’t French in origin at all, but rather taken from the Dutch word ‘vlaie’ meaning swamp or valley and can be tied to New York City’s 18th-century “Fly Market,” which stood on what used to be a salt marsh.


While we may never know for certain, flea markets are still fantastic place for savvy shoppers to discover vintage goods.


Let’s Talk Shop


Whether you prefer to call it a swap meet, open market, rummage sale or bazaar, your shopping experience will be very different from visiting a retail store.


Vintage Goodies: Since most of these items are used or handmade, you won’t be paying sticker price. Especially if you know how to haggle. Which means more savings for you!


One of a Kind: For the same reason, many of your flea market finds will be totally unique. Maybe you’ll take home an original art piece or an exciting piece of jewelry repurposed from old gears and watch pieces. Feel free to brag about your flea market finds to friends and coworkers!


Market Mania: Swap meets are known for cultivating a culture all their own. Bargain shoppers, for example, are notoriously early risers. If you want to compete for the best deals and flea market finds, you may want to set your alarm a little early.


Another Person’s Treasure


Of course, there also a few things to look out for when flea market shopping.


Don’t Be a Sucker: While many of the used goods at swap meets are in good condition, it’s probably a smart idea to give your item a close inspection before grabbing your wallet. Minor damage is in the eye of the beholder and can often be used as a bargaining chip to bring down the price. But you definitely don’t want to overlook a design flaw or missing piece that could turn your treasure into a bum deal.


Take the Scenic Route: Why not take the long way around the booths? This way you can see everything the market has to offer before settling on what you really want. Vendors often sell similar items so it can be useful to scope out the best deals and goodies.


Shop Till You Drop


Now that you have all the tips and tricks you need to be a rummage sale expert, search Google to find the best flea market finds in your area. May your next shopping experience be exciting and flea free!


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