The soldes are biannual sales in Paris, regarded almost like a national holiday amid elitist shoppers. They last six weeks during every winter and summer, with discounts mounting as weeks go on. And I caught it just in time.
The day after I arrived in Paris, the madness began. For the first markdown, store owners and anticipatory employees decorated the windows like it was Christmas, trying to convince window shoppers that they had the best deal.
Women skipped their lunch breaks and headed over to H&M (yes, sadly, I did too), Etam and Gallerie Lafayette to get deals while they could.
But the rush seemed silly to me at the time, since the discounts increase every week. Wouldn’t they want to wait to get the best deal possible?
No, and I quickly learned why. A week later, signs for the second markdown were posted. The selection inside the stores was noticeably more sparse, but that didn’t stop the crowds from rifling through the “-50 %” racks.
Of course, I wanted to take advantage of it. I wanted a wardrobe worthy of, “Oh, this old thing? I got it in Paris.” Unfortunately, the sales were not as cheap as I hoped they would be. Designer labels that are 50 percent off still don’t exactly fit into my free-food loving, hostel-traveling college budget.
But here’s the trick I’ve learned as the sales progress: chain and department stores are not the only places to shop. Yes, if you are looking to get a pair of Christian Louboutin heels for 350 euros instead of 425, Gallerie Lafayette, Printemps and Le Bon Marché department stores are waiting for you. However, that’s not what I had in mind.
Just outside the Paris city limits every Saturday lies a string of vendors waiting for tourists and natives alike to clean them out of hand-crafted bags, antiques and almost anything else you can think of. You don’t even need sales to get a good deal; you need to be good at haggling.
A group of us arrived at “Le Marché aux Puces” with high expectations. Going to places where we were advised against bringing any valuables sounds like a fun Saturday morning, right? The marché is a huge flea market and according to its website, it houses 1,000 vendors for art, fashion and clothes, and 2,500 venders selling antiques and secondhand items.
We were ready to shop and didn’t plan on leaving empty-handed.
Men pushed knock-off Louis Vuitton purses, Guess watches and anything marked with Chanel in our faces. After walking past stand after stand, awing at African statues yet not seeing anything enticing enough to be worth the price tag, we still hadn’t found our treasure.
I lost about 10 minutes of my life talking with a vendor in an awkward mix of French and English, trying to convince him to knock the price of a purse from 45 euros to 20, to no avail (it was worth a try). It was almost as bad as the soldes, only haggling takes more effort.
We left defeated, only to learn later that day that we never actually made it to the heart of the market. The stands we were rifling through were set up in an attempt at catching the overflow from the real market, the one filled with treasures and antique spoons and everything I wanted to find.
Naturally, the real, bustling market will be a part of our plans in the weekends ahead. However, I have one more week of sales before everything goes back to full retail price—though it might be safer for my wallet to just sit this one out. At least, until I find my treasure, that is.