You may have witnessed it.
The young, eager bride-to-be is opening her shower gifts, oohing and ahhing at the generosity of her family and friends as sheets, cooking utensils, and place settings — all of which she’s chosen for herself — emerge from the wrapping.
But one gift is the clear star. The KitchenAid Mixer, that industrious tool beloved by cooks and wannabe chefs everywhere, remains the gift for new brides.
These women are teachers, lawyers, bankers — modern women with robust lives outside the home, and yet this symbol of homemakers, this tool for home chefs continues to draw them in. While some may be novice bakers or kitchen hobbyists, many would rather leave the cooking up to someone else. Nevertheless, they’re dazzled by this symbol of culinary proficiency. And in their signature color, of course.
But what is it about a hard-working countertop mixer that has some women so transfixed? Is this “keeping up with the Joneses” or is it feminist commentary at its finest?
Introduced to home cooks in the early 1900s after years of commercial use, the first mixers were sold door-to-door, with women inviting friends and neighbors over to their home to watch its demonstration. Nearly 100 years later, it’s become a status symbol for its owners, something that says to the world: “I’m a serious cook,” or at the very least, “I got married.”
Selling points for the KitchenAid Artisan Series Stand Mixer, which will run you about $349.99, include a tilting head for better access to the stainless steel bowl and a 325-watt motor, not to mention accessories galore. A host of attachments will transform it into a pasta maker, an ice cream maker, a fruit juicer, and more.
On the popular wedding planning website TheKnot.com, the mixer is consistently listed as one of the top wedding registry items, where it is referred to as “a work of art for your kitchen.”
“A lot of people really love their KitchenAid Mixers,” says Juliet Kinchin, curator of modern design in the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art. She calls the item “substantial” and “the kind of object you can’t entirely ignore.”
And it’s not just women who love them.
“I think what’s happened more recently is that many more men are becoming interested in cooking as a form of leisure and relaxation,” Kinchin says. “In fact, it’s just as likely to be the husband who will put that on the registry as the bride.”
For bride-to-be Allie Potter, registering for the mixer was simply a matter of following mom’s example.
“My mom has one and it just has so many great attachments so I figured get the base for now and then add attachments as the years go by,” Potter says.
For Tiffany Fiorentino, it wasn’t a matter of needing one, but rather wanting one.
“We’re not big cookers,” she says. “But I feel like it’s one of those things that we feel like we need to have.”
The Boston-based bride-to-be, who is planning an “urban destination” wedding in Chicago in 2013, says she plans to register for a pink one.
“It’s a great way to show your personality,” Fiorentino says. “If you’re having people over and they see it, it’s kind of like a talking point, like, ‘Oh wow, you got the green one,’ or the pink one or whatever it is.”
There are dozens of color options for the mixers, with names like green apple, bay leaf, boysenberry, and empire red. Product colors not special enough? You can even purchase specialty decals and covers on the popular craft-peddling website Etsy to further distinguish your mixer from all the rest.
But not everyone is so smitten.
Shauna Sellenger, from Winthrop, was having a bit of an internal struggle when it came time to decide what to register for. She was feeling conflicted about the mixer because she didn’t think she’d use it, and ultimately decided to leave it off her list. Instead, the big ticket items on her registry are a grill and a wine cooler.
“It’s a nice piece to put in your kitchen but I don’t know how much I would use it personally,” Sellenger says of the mixer.
She suggests that devotion to the appliance is more about trying to come to grips with traditional marriage roles than simply wanting the next new thing.
“It’s kind of like, well now I’m domesticated, so I should be in the kitchen, cooking for my husband,” Sellenger says. “You do it just to do it.”
Despite the fact that many women work full time (and then some), there remains an underlying desire or at the very least pressure, to become what society tells us a wife should be: someone who cooks, who entertains. The woman who can do it all. And this, it seems, may be at the very heart of the KitchenAid obsession.
“Almost all of the women I know have families and work full time, though there’s still such an emphasis on entertaining and keeping a home a certain way,” says Stephanie Phillips, who sells decals for KitchenAid Mixers through her Etsy shop SweetSerendipityShop. Phillips is also a high school sociology teacher and an adjunct professor at local community colleges near her home in Pennsylvania.
“I think maybe they’re not quite as far away of the idea of the traditional family as they think.”
Nicole Cammorata can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.