How to Shop a Flea

From left, Alex Bell and Shira Entis at the Outdoor Flea Market in Chelsea. Far right: The Normandy bag, $440. Available in August. Go to
Alex Bell and Shira Entis know their fleas, from Elephant’s Trunk in Connecticut to Portobello Market in London. Which you would expect from the girls who started the awesome line of handbags and totes called Fleabags.
“We’ve been lovers of flea markets forever,” Bell says. “When I met Shira at Brown University, we bonded over great market deals.” Currently, their favorite markets are Chelsea’s on 25th street and that up-and-coming hidden gem Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market (406 West 39th Street) on Saturdays. As quasi professionals, however, they never venture forth without a game plan, which includes the following advice:
1. Keep your eye on the ball. “We try to talk beforehand and focus ourselves a little bit,” Entis says. Markets are open on various days, but the girls prefer Saturdays (the most vendors turn out) and suggest arriving when the gates open (usually around 9 a.m.). Most important, know what you’re looking for before you get there.
2. Weather makes all the difference. “On a cold or cloudy day, fewer vendors set up,” Bell says. “That means there are fewer shoppers too. So, the vendors there are more likely to make a deal. One of Shira’s most successful excursions happened at the outdoor Chelsea flea on a cold and windy day. Only three vendors made it out and because Shira was their only customer she walked away with a huge box of YSL blouses and antique brocade fabrics. Great finds!”
3. Your outfit might, too. “When marketing outside of the city, we try not to look like New Yorkers,” Entis says. “Especially no jewelry!” When you are in Manhattan, the jig is usually up and vendors know a tourist from a seasoned shopper a mile away. Dress casual and for comfort. You don’t have to prove anything about your vintage know-how.
4. Let them do the talking: “Being coy is the name of the game,” Bell says. “No one is going to give you a deal if they think you’re going to turn around and sell it on eBay. But on the flip side, don’t be naïve.” It’s O.K. to eventually let them know you know Balenciaga from Target and that you’re not going to get pushed around.
5. It’s O.K. to be thrifty: “We rarely spend more than $100 during the entire day,” Entis says. “And, we always have a good bartering session with the vendors,” Bell adds. Entis scored a vintage Chanel jacket for $40, and Bell found a pair of new Oscar de la Renta heels for $15 at the Chelsea flea. “If you are buying multiple items, they’ll usually give you a better deal rather than just buying one item,” says Bell, who along with Entis stocked up on military blankets from vendors for their fall 2011 collection.
6. Go with a friend: “We like to help each other,” Entis says. And what’s more fun than shopping with a friend?

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