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.”
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 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.