Mark Twain once said: “Clothes make the man.” For one couple, clothes shaped a 60-year marriage, starting with a wedding dress.
That ivory satin wedding dress, belonging to the late Marian Mieden, is on display at the Onalaska Historical Museum.
Marian’s husband, Loyd, recently saw it for the first time since her death in 2009. Sixty years of memories and tears came flooding back to Loyd at the sight.
The last time he saw the dress was three days before Marian died in March 2009. But the sight of the display brought him back to 1948, their wedding day, and their 60-year marriage. “It was 60 years to behold,” Loyd said. “No one can know how deep our love was.”
However, he was deeply troubled. The display didn’t match the memory. “The veil’s not right, it’s all wrong,” Loyd kept mumbling. Loyd was so focused on the veil, he didn’t even notice his wedding picture. And he didn’t see the other wedding items on the “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” display. Bride handbags, mother of the bride hats, lingerie bags and other wedding paraphernalia from the era are tucked into a little nook in the museum.
“The veil’s all wrong, the hair’s all wrong. I can’t even see her face. It doesn’t look like her at all. I wish I hadn’t seen it. I can’t look at it anymore,” the 88-year-old said as he got up from his chair and turned toward the door.
Instead of heading out the museum door, Loyd turned back to the mannequin and started gently removing the veil. The alarmed museum staff person came over immediately but held back as Loyd kept saying “I’m fixing it, I’m fixing it. It’s all wrong.”
While clasping hat pins in his mouth, he tenderly worked the veil until it looked the way he remembered Marian wearing it on their wedding day. He looked very much the tailor fitting a garment on his wife, something he had done for 58 years.
“Push that hair out of her face,” he said. Soon the small beaded cap, with the veil of ivory lace pieces stitched into the netting, was where Loyd wanted it.
“There,” he said, after making sure the cap was in the right position, the veil only partially covering the face and the hair behind the ears. “Now it’s right.”
His relief was visible once he had that right. Only then was Loyd able to sit down and see his wedding picture.
“Look at that,” he said. “That’s how she looked.”
Only then could he share how their love was deepened by his pride in seeing his beloved Marian in clothes he made for her.
“I kept her in clothes like you wouldn’t believe, for 58 years.” He said Marian liked simple lines and silks and cottons. They used to travel to Rochester, where they had a favorite restaurant right across the street from a silk shop.
Although he didn’t make Marian’s wedding dress, which was bought from a store for $85 in 1948, over the years Loyd made all of her clothing.
At the time of her death, Marian had 15 or more suits in her closet. Loyd had also made 32 other wedding garments for friends and relatives. He donated the wedding dress to the historical society.
Loyd began sewing just to make repairs to their everyday clothing. He knew how to sew from his mother, who had a sewing machine. At some point, Loyd said, Marian decided she was going to create a garment — a nightie.
“It was the wrong place to start,” Loyd said. “She could cook up a storm and be a wonderful teacher, but she wasn’t that good with her hands.”
Loyd decided to start making housedresses, which were the fashion then, for Marian. As he gained confidence, Loyd started making her jackets to wear to work. Then it was creating clothing for their sons.
A friend asked him to make a mother of the groom dress and had obtained silks from Japan for just that purpose. Although he lacked the confidence, Loyd said the dress “was magnificent.”
“Then I started making everything for Marian,” Loyd said.
He took up weaving when he was 70 and sells his scarves and other products under the name “Loyd’s House of Weaving.” Look for his merchandise at the La Crosse Society of Arts and Crafts events and at the Art Fair on the Green, among other places.