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Labor Day Laments and the Masculine Glory of Groom’s Cakes

The groom's cake my husband would want had we had it to do over again; AT-AT cake by Cake Central member ChrisThe Cook

The groom’s cake my husband would likely want, if we had it to do over again. AT-AT cake by Cake Central member ChrisThe Cook

It’s Labor Day, which signals summer’s approaching end, as well as a seasonally-based, social ban on white clothing[Though really, when are white pants ever a good idea?] This holiday also tends to mark the end of the summer wedding season, but I’ve got weddings and cakes on the brain because I’m head-over-heels in love with Cherry Levin’s recent article, “He Can Have his Cake and We Will Eat It Too: The Role of the Groom’ Cake in Southeastern Louisiana Wedding Receptions,” in Digest: A Journal of Foodways and Culture

While I’m not sure the claim that the groom’s cake tradition is waining everywhere but in the south holds water, I greatly enjoyed the author’s analysis of the groom’s cake as a masculine detail within the otherwise ultra-feminine affair that is most big, white weddings.

Levin comments upon the “visual and symbolic relationship” between the wedding cake—or “bride’s cake” if you prefer—as its towering tiers and feminine, frosted details mirror the bride herself, adorned with lace, tulle, and beading. Furthermore, she contends that “celebratory cakes communicate important messages about gender, economic and social status.” In this way, the size, flavors, decoration, and theme of the groom’s cake takes on specific cultural meaning.

While the bride’s cake evokes the wedding day ideals of purity and beauty, Levin argues that “the southern groom’s cake openly affirms individual masculine characteristics and male personality in the otherwise controlled space of wedding ritual.” Interestingly enough, Levin points out that is often the bride who chooses and designs the groom’s cake, thus a symbol of masculinity crafted through a feminine lens. She further asserts, “When chosen by the bride, the groom’s cake may reflect and/or celebrate the groom’s successful performance of hegemonic masculinity or underscore notions of the groom’s virility by playfully critiquing aspects of his masculinity.”

Steel Magnolias inspired Armadillo Cake; Sandi Oh's Cupcakes, Edina, MN

Steel Magnolias inspired armadillo cake; Sandi Oh’s Cupcakes, Edina, MN

As Levin attended more than fifty southern weddings, researching the role and meaning of the grooms’ cake among other details, these desserts took on different masculine meanings, many of which may also resonate outside of the American south. She states that sports-themed cakes celebrated both hegemonic masculinity and regional identity; a beer-themed cake honored a groom as a “man’s man;” cakes that depicted hobbies, academic accomplishments, or careers each demonstrated a man’s special skills, mastery, and authority.

Near the end of the article, Levin discusses the armadillo groom’s cake made famous in Steel Magnolias as “an oikotype for what has become a groom’s cake trend at Louisiana wedding receptions.” Levin argues that the the red velvet, gray iced, armadillo-shaped cake—a confection in stark contrast to the extravagant and exceedingly pink wedding cake designed by the bride—communicates “encoded message about social, economic and class distinctions between the two merging families.” Despite these negative original connotations, the armadillo cake remains extremely popular and locally meaningful at Louisiana weddings.

The groom's cake at our wedding.

The groom’s cake at our wedding.

The armadillo cake also holds meaning outside of Louisiana, perhaps due to the wide release of the film version of Steel Magnolias. When I got married in Montana, my husband’s groom cake was a chocolate whale (an inside joke about the Carvel Fudgie the Whale cake) and the baker’s point of reference for my slightly unusual request was that she could carve it “like the armadillo cake,” a groom’s cake icon familiar to us both despite its southern origin, tradition, and character. From the lowlands of Louisiana to the mountains of Montana, the armadillo cake retains a sort of cultural currency.

Levin concludes, saying, “Groom’s cake not only demonstrates the bride’s vision of her groom’s masculine performance but also reveals her comprehension of his positioning within their social sphere.” While this is a fascinating finding that emerges from her copious wedding day observations and speaks to my own research on food and masculinity, my husband’s groom’s cake read, “Chris, You’re a whale of a husband!,” a predictive affirmation for the husband that he would be. I’m one lucky lady that this joking proclamation turned out to be wonderfully true.

4 Comments

    • emilycontois says

      Oh no! I guess it does a little bit! Maybe like all animal foods, the whale had to die so that we could enjoy and eat him – and he was a very delicious cake that we ate throughout our honeymoon.

      As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  1. Laura S. says

    I toyed with the idea of doing a groom’s cake, but I remembered the tradition too late in the planning-game to make it happen. My idea was to do a cake decorated as an x-ray (my husband’s a radiologist). After reading this piece, I am struck by how neatly our cakes would’ve fit into Levin’s theory. The wedding cake was absolutely a reflection of me on the wedding day, right down to the fresh flowers in my hair that matched the flowers atop the cake. As for the groom’s cake idea, I thought the x-ray cake would be a fun nod to my husband’s hard-earned success and bright future. I still think it would have been a clever idea and I like the idea of toasting his success, but what gives me pause is the contrast of the masculine-success cake with the pretty-for-a-day cake that reflected nothing about who I was, other than my one day role as a bride. Through this lens, I’m pretty happy we skipped the groom’s cake tradition.

    Like

    • emilycontois says

      Thanks for sharing, Laura! It is interesting how your cake plans aligned with Levin’s findings regarding the gender mapping and meaning of each cake.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

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