48 Hours in Tucson

After Venice, Italy, and Pris, France, Tucson, Arizona is my favorite city in the whole world. I mean it! People complain that there’s no ocean there, but you just don’t need the ocean when you have the desert – friendly cacti like the one above, coyotes, tiny iridescent hummingbirds that make you think you’re hallucinating flying jewels, tarantulas, scorpions, gila monsters! There’s a mountain that starts off 90-degrees and studded with cactus, winds up upwards into a Roadrunner cartoon and finishes off at the top with a snow-covered pine forest with a ski resort. Monsoons come in from the mountains and you can watch them heading right toward you and they flash-flood the dry ravines so there, you get some water. Truthfully, I live in San Francisco and the only time I go to the ocean is if I’m forced to freeze my ass off at someone’s birthday bonfire. But in Tucson I could spend hours in the desert trying to figure out which plants or bush or tree is making that amazing smell!

But the real reason to come to Tucson is to go thrifting. I don’t know where any of the clothes for sale at any of the eight million thrift stores come from – it seems there is no place to actually buy new clothes inside city limits. Who cares? There is a thrift store for every price range and thrifting temperament. If you are like me and you enjoy spending three hours lost in a giant, dusty secondhand store, the Goodwill on 4th Avenue is one of the best in the land.

The first thing any true thrifter does upon entering a Goodwill is scan for competition. I found this stylish person right away, blinded by her excellent bag and oatmeal sweater. We were sort of the same size, and I believe, shopping for the same sort of thing. Lucky for me she was leaving.

I was shopping for a pair of loafers, and I had a terrible feeling this cute person might be hunting the same animal. I thought she also might be trouble in both the purse aisle and along the rack stuffed with little boys’ plaid flannel shirts. We regarded each other warily and moved on.

As it turned out, there was more than enough for everyone at the 4th Ave Goodwill. This was the cart I parked in front of the dressing room after two hours of wheeling around the place, my nose slowly clogging with decades of dust.

Something happened when I found this jacket. Tears sprung to my eyes, a rush of adrenalin coursed through my body, I got sweaty, maybe I needed to go to the bathroom. Later, in the dressing room, tears sprung to my eyes once more as I learned that, like most all my finds, it did not fit me. This is the curse of thrifting, but it is also it’s magic. Because when you do find something that fits you it feels like the universe had set it there especially for you, a sort of power animal dress or skirt or jacket or whatever. Let’s take a tour of this garment, shall we? It’s someone’s magical power animal item for sure, and I hope they find each other:

It looks like you paid $400 for it at Opening Ceremony, but in fact you paid $4 for it at Goodwill.

That’s on the back. Wow!

My look for fall will be this dress and a bunch of dresses like this one. Below-the-knee, autumnal florals with some insane lace or fake pearl details. When I showed up at my sister’s house straight from my Tucson adventure and showed her my finds, she remarked, “It’s very Juniper Creek.” Well, it would be if someone would show me how to French braid my hair! Pretty please? Anyone? Chloe Sevigny in any incarnation whatever is always a respectable inspiration. Let’s get a close up of that collar!

Yes! The last thing worth mentioning is that one of my Goodwill purchases was so saturated in patchouli it made my entire suitcase reek of it. But, truth be told, it was not unpleasant.

Tucson has this cute little trolley that runs from the University – which has the greatest poetry center and library anywhere – to the thrifting mecca of 4th Ave. The weekend I visited there was a massive bike swap with bike people swapping and selling bike things all over the place. Which is cool if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’m into shrunken trucks serving up big cups of coffee, so this little cafe on wheels was a delightful sight.

Though there is no place selling cute new clothes that I could find, there are places selling excellent jewelry and houseware-y stuff, like this super cute boutique, Telegram. These earring were made by the proprietess’ sister. Sea coral dunked in silver!

Telegram is full of clever, attractive things you maybe hadn’t realized you needed. Like an ironing board with a chess board on it. And cozies for the chess pieces, of course.

Rocks for buttons! Pennies for buttons!

Knit antlers are the new rhinestoned antlers. And not a moment too soon.

Tucson got the memo about creating a full, rustic shopping environment, thank god. I’ve become spoiled! I also want to have a lovely fern perched atop a pile of handsome luggage in my own home. Right?

If I hadn’t spent a hundred dollars at Goodwill I could have bought a beautiful piece of jewelry off a cozied antler! Priorities.

If spending three hours combing through Goodwill is not your idea of a good time I recommend you first go to therapy to uncover why you are so opposed to joy, but meanwhile, visit this cute little shop Jam started by a girl who ran away from San Francisco but held onto her ties to Bay Area vintage wholesalers. Her shop if half new stuff and half secondhand, and the secondhand is very nicely edited. This here vintage Dooney & Burke bag, which I have seen in SF for one hundred dollars at both Shotwell and at The Torch on Valencia, was sixteen dollars. I could have bought it and resold it in the Mission, but you know what? I’m not that kind of person. Here’s some other great stuff I spied at Jam:

Those loafers have heels. I was sort of interested, but had already found a dreamy pair of navy tasseled loafers at the Goodwill!

Love them. Didn’t fit.

These looked sort of like rocks and sort of like eggs dyed with tea. And they were only $5!

Okay, let’s move on. These here kids’ clothes hung on a branch before a rusted and corrugated metal wall is at Preen, a really beautifully decorated thrift store that is bigger than Jam but not as baffling and time-consuming as the Goodwill.

Cufflink treasure trove.

Star-spangled spangle.

Poncho villa.

If I were going to, like, marry a cowboy in the desert beneath a full moon, this would be my dress. In fact, it might be worth it to try to hook that up so I have an occasion to purchase it.

Yeah, man.

These are probably the best pair of cowboy boots in all of Tucson, which means all the world, since there is probably a bigger concentration of cowboy boots in this town than anywhere else. Like, per capita or whatever. I know that’s a bold statement but I’m sticking to it. This incredible pair were found behind the counter at How Sweet It Was, probably my favorite vintage store on 4th Ave.

Don’t worry, I didn’t get it. But I really, really wanted to.

Serious Prairie Chic.

Basically my dream coat. And like my dream boots, didn’t fit.

You probably don’t want to go to this bar. But feel free to enjoy the giant miniature golf relic looming over 4th Ave.

This is Tabitha. First off, she’s got the best name in the world. Secondly, she runs a really charming boutique called The Wooden Tooth. It’s full of interesting jewelry, antique knick knacks, gems, fossils, and spooky, Joseph Cornell-esque dioramas she makes herself. Tabitha also hipped me to the Gem Show, a total gem extravaganza that takes over Tucson at the start of February each year. I want to go so bad! Road trip! Who’s in?

I love ropey, cotton necklaces. And I love them most draped on a piece of dead cactus.

Bolo ties from the natural world.

This shy desert fox wouldn’t let me snap a picture of her face, but trust me, it as purty. She slings serapes at Desert Vintage, which, like How Sweet It Was, has been on 4th Ave. forever and also is a costume rental. She was sitting outside because the air conditioning in the shop was blasting. It is worth mentioning that during my visit all the natives were complaining about how it’s now winter. This is what winter looks like in Tucson, people. Dig it.

Lay Away! No way!

You’ve got to muscle through a lot of crappy petticoats and striped tights in this place, but when you do, what treasures await!

Pendleton for fucking nobody. Just Pendleton.

After a rough day of self-obsessed blogging and shopping, only one thing satisfies.

Arizona’s first Dairy Queen is located smack on 4th Ave. Tucson: Best Town in United States. I rest my case.




About Michelle Tea

I chanted "I am a fashion magnet" in the shower and subsequently found a Gianni Versace - era Versace skirt at Buffalo Exchange for $17. Once I got a beyond-my-means Fendi purse for free and sat staring at it, crying. Also cried at Olivier Theyskens' last show for Nina Ricci in Paris. Other things that make me cry: a good lip synch; my emotions. I have stolen two Jeremy Scott swag items from two Jeremy Scott events I was not quite invited to. Sometimes I want to age into Patti Smith, sometimes Baby Jane Hudson. I frequently dream I am in a magic thrift store where I can have whatever I want. I regret not buying the Alexander Wang purse when it was half price at Barney's. Like a delusional guy at a strip club, I feel special when the people who work at Barney's remember me. Having a Leo rising gives me big hair and a need for attention. My favorite designers right now are Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Proenza Schouler, Vivienne Westwood, Viktor Rolf, Rick Owens, Rodarte, Helmut Lang and Surface to Air. I was once shamed by an employee of a high-end department store for pronouncing 'Rodarte' incorrectly.


  1. And that was just on 4th! Oh, there is so much more. Come back and enjoy. No, shhhh lets keep it hush hush. Then all this plunder can be mine, all mine. And yours of course.

  2. NG

    Holy mountain femme, mary!

  3. “If spending three hours combing through Goodwill is not your idea of a
    good time I recommend you first go to therapy to uncover why you are so
    opposed to joy.” Best quote ever? Maybe! 🙂

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