'Tis the season when even the most stylish girl's thoughts turn to large hats and small bags of almonds. Why? asks Rosie Millard
The display in Lewis's department store in central Manchester has already arrived. As have similar ones at Hammonds in Hull, Elys in Wimbledon, Rackhams, Peter Jones and John Lewis. It is of hats. Dozens of them. Lime green, powder blue, baby pink. All arrayed in metal stands on the ground floor, so you can't fail to miss them. Decorated with bows, ribbons and elaborate tassels. Each and every one designed with one particular person in mind: the Mother of the Bride.

For May is here, the nights are shorter, the days sunnier, and thus the wedding season is beginning, with mothers-of-brides, chief bridesmaids, best men, page boys and of course those happy couples in their thousands thronging the land in mad preparation for the matrimonial celebration. Without so much as an announced bann, sensible and sophisticated women all over the country will get sweaty palms as they open their copy of Brides magazine, breathlessly choose the flower arrangements for the Top Table, or ring the Bride's Book at Peter Jones. The women on the other end of the line at the Brides Book are so helpful, ever so forthcoming with bright ideas about what you should choose on your wedding list. It's just as well. For as sure as confetti is confetti, people simply lose their minds in the wedding season.

It happened to me. Don't ask how, but as soon as my husband popped the question, all my nicely educated concerns about subscribing to the Spectator or what I should go and see at the National Theatre were instantly replaced by panic attacks of what colour my shoes should be. Ivory or cream? Dress: full or straight? Headwear: hat or veil? Service: trad or wacky? Bridesmaids: at all? I entered a lengthy phase of desperately wanting to talk about it, which was basically all the time. I should have gone for counselling. Instead, I used my everyday life. Dinner parties, office meetings, interviews; please can we talk about my wedding? But I didn't want to talk to any normal people, oh no. My social circle was drastically altered, since I only wanted to talk to people who would talk to me about The Big Day, which basically was either (a) past brides (b) wannabe brides or (c) people who tried to sell me things connected with TBD.

For the other thing is that as soon as your betrothal is announced, you are inundated with tacky letters offering you everything from silk floral buttonholes to sepia-tinted photographs and helicopter rides away from the back garden. All of which you take seriously. Hand-outs and unsolicited mail, the type of which you wouldn't normally give a second's thought, are perused, discussed with your parents and filed away in an important- looking file marked MY WEDDING. You start flicking urgently through Hello! in order to see how other brides did it. Turn up on a horse? Why not. Trudi Styler did. Disappear in a balloon? What a fab idea. My mates Gavin and Caroline did, even though there was no wind. It's your wedding and you should be allowed to do anything you want, even though you may look barmy in the execution of your dream.

Because, as the advertisers kindly remind you, it is Your Day. And you simply have to have everything possible, because Your Day will not happen again. And so you are fooled into ordering mindless details such as small net bags of almonds for each guest to take away from the wedding, even though 60 per cent of the guests will hate them and the other 40 per cent lose them. You are beguiled into having menu sheets and such like around the marquee, although everyone knows they will be eating cold salmon and there is no choice anyway. You will bully your parents to arrange the back lawn with all sorts of unnecessary fiddle-faddle, like Portaloos and wheelie bins; and you will force them to pay for a wind band, even though no one notices it.

It's not as if there's no one egging you on. Places like Harrods bridal room are simply dying to encourage you in your madness. In the hunt for the "dream dress" (eventually tracked down in a south London suburb), I must have spent the temporal equivalent of a week at Harrods. It wasn't a waste of time. Trying on dresses, and talking to other brides-to-be about the difference between georgette and silk dupion? Fantastic. I used to put on veils in the lovely private changing rooms, and revel in the mirror. I didn't care about platform shoes, or those lovely deconstructed Nicole Farhi jackets over which I used to lust, not any more. Taste? Forget it. I just wanted to walk around in a white dress whose design was closely modelled on Lady Diana Spencer's dress, circa 1981. I had the bug and I had it bad.

The Harrods women understood. They simply nodded their heads and produced frock after ivory frock, all beautifully virginal in their plastic protective sheaths. They didn't mind that the dresses were modelled on designs which might have looked OK in the American Civil War. They know that with brides, style goes out of the window as never before. Indeed, one assistant admitted to me that although fashion and, God knows, Princess Di herself, have both travelled a billion light years away from the moment her New Romantic confection, all crumpled creamy silk, came pouring out of that glass carriage and up the steps to St Paul's, brides haven't.

One woman I met, a highly qualified barrister, informed me seriously that she was intent on producing "the fairy-tale" look for her Big Day and, as if to prove it, gleefully jumped into her dress, an extraordinary affair complete with hooped crinoline and bonnet. "It's the most important decision you'll ever make," said another woman, a sophisticated type with bobbed hair and Hobbs shoes. What, the husband? "No," she said. "The Dress." See what I mean.

I realised all my brain cells had turned into Coronation Chicken for 60 when my husband-to-be and I had the row about the Firework Display. I did so want the Firework Display. It was advertised in Brides, my chosen (and only) reading matter for at least six months before the day. The display consisted of a wire heart, surmounted by a "personalised touch" - the groom's and the bride's first initials. At the touch of a taper the entire confection would burst into thousands of tiny sparkles and Roman candles. For just £50, your front lawn could look like a scaled- down version of a municipal park on Guy Fawkes' Night. I thought it beautiful, and romantic, and just the thing to have when, teary-eyed but happy, we would finally leave the bridal party for our secret-destination wedding night. Sadly for me, my husband, whose mental faculties had not been touched so seriously by the disease, took one look at the picture in Brides and banned any further discussion.

However, he could not say no to The Tape. The Tape was fantastic. I bought it when I bought my wedding shoes (ivory), and played it all the time, particularly in the car. The Tape consisted of a man with a nasal voice introducing 40, 20-second bursts of hymns, marches, incidental music and anything else you might like to consider for The Day. Sheep May Safely Graze, Jerusalem, Ye Holy Angels Bright, Dear Lord and Father Of Mankind: it had the lot. "Category E. The Entrance of the Bride," The Tape would portentously announce, and I would grab the steering wheel and go into ecstasy. I left Sheryl Crowe and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Madonna in a sad, unpatronised heap, and simply listened to The Tape, and cried. All the time. I even moved out of my ironic Abba mode. Sod grooviness. I was going to be a bride, and I was in ivory netting-lined heaven.

Indeed, for a long time after the moment I did eventually walk up the aisle (to one of The Tape's selected tunes, Handel's The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, in case you're interested), I continued to play The Tape, and cry. For it's a difficult thing to shake off, this wedding madness, particularly now summer's back. Even though I'm back wearing clothes from Jigsaw and Miss Selfridge and reading unmarital literature, it sneaks up on me.

I will still take a quick look at those smiling women in Brides who are wearing ghastly white concoctions in silk dupion which are completely unrelated to concepts of modern fashion. And I do not sneer. I love them. For once a bride, you see, always a bride.