What it is: An elegant, generally all-white cake with an understated design. Flowers made of sugar paste (such as the gardenias here) are popular accents, as are sugar-paste roses and calla lilies. Typically, the cakes are composed of three- to four-inch-high tiers (inside each tier are four layers of cake). One common combo: citrus-vanilla-flavored cake topped with buttercream.
What to know: No matter the icing you choose, the white color almost never varies, so don't try to match the shade to your off-white gown. A no-fail pick: pearlized white, which emits a slight luster.
Money-saving tip: Opt for buttercream icing instead of fondant―it's cheaper. And commission a simple cake. Intricate designs will set you back financially.
2 of 4Debra McClinton
Contemporary or Modern Original Design
What it is: A hip take on the traditional cake―it's taller (tiers are four to six inches high) and design-heavy, with repeated patterns on the sides or the top. (The motif shown is the double wedding ring, often used by quilters.) Tastewise, these cakes are usually bold. Flavors range from red velvet to hazelnut to hummingbird (a variation of carrot cake, with a twist of pineapple).
What to know: You can ask for any design that piques your interest. A baker can create silhouettes of butterflies, birds, flowers, and more by hand or with pastry cutters.
3 of 4Debra McClinton
Romantic and Nontraditional
What it is: A whimsical cake inspired by something sentimental―in this case, the embellishment on a wedding dress. (Here, the baker used sugar paste to mimic buttons on the bride's gown.) Whereas modern cakes tend to feel structured, these are much less formulaic (note the flowing design and how each tier differs in height).
What to know: Because these cakes are highly personalized, you'll need to work with the baker to develop a vision. Feel free to bring fabric swatches, a favorite quote, an inspiring photograph, or even a beloved childhood storybook.
4 of 4Debra McClinton
Casual Wedding Cake Alternative
What it is: A laid-back, creative alternative to the typical three-tiered wedding cake. Here, an assortment of pies evokes a playful country mood and gives guests multiple flavor options.
What to know: Who's doing the slicing, as cutting into pies can be tricky. If the guests cut their own slices, choose pies with thick fillings, like coconut custard, pecan, and pumpkin. Crust options include braided edges, lattice crusts with sugar, or a solid top with cutout motifs. Other casual ideas: a cupcake tower or an ice cream-sundae bar.