Is dress shopping stressing you out? Head to a local boutique for a more personal experience.

Gown shopping: It's exhilarating, it's once-in-a-lifetime, it's something you'll remember forever. But it can also be intimidating. With a plethora of dresses to choose from and the potential for a crowd of other brides-to-be in a store, big-name bridal salons can make the process more worrisome than wonderful, despite the typically larger selection they offer. That's where the small, intimate setting of a boutique can work to your advantage.

The encounter at a small, single-location boutique really caters to the one-on-one attention of each bride. Compared to a larger store, where there may be several other brides and their entourages in an appointment at the same time, brides at boutiques tend to have the shop to themselves.

“We do one [bride] at a time,” says Meg Williams, owner of Trousseau Bridal. “I have brides pick their own music before they come in. We have custom Pandora stations. They also fill out a questionnaire. I like to get in their heads a little bit of where they want to be. Those questions dictate how the appointment goes.”

Joan Madison, designer at and owner of Joan's Bridal Couture, created a special space just for brides next to her main storefront, where she sells mother-of-the-bride dresses, bridesmaid dresses and more. This ensures her customers have a bridal experience that is individual and unique.

“At a larger store, you may have an appointment, but there are other customers too,” says Madison. “What happens when you have a girl that comes in off the street who didn't have an appointment? They're working with those customers, too. I can really be attentive to that one bride.”

If you're up for a drive, head just an hour north of Columbus to Twirl, located in Kenton. While Twirl can accommodate several brides at once, a recent remodel allows each bride to have an intimate experience.

“There's a whole excitement around hearing another bride say yes to the dress,” says Laura Wingfield, owner of Twirl. “Others can feed off this excitement.”

Along with that personalized attention is the ability of boutique owners to be on the floor and work directly with customers.

“When the owner is hands-on, you'll get more of that high-level customer service,” says Diane Bond, co-owner of White of Dublin. “Maybe the owner [of a larger chain] has [so] many stores that they can't be present at all of them.”

And working with the owner has perks beyond help during your appointment. Boutique owners often can make decisions that sales associates at a larger-scale gown store cannot.

“An owner can say, ‘Absolutely' or ‘We can make that work,' ” says Bond. “They can make a change or discount a dress. If there is an issue, the bride can get in touch with the owner and get that issue resolved.”

Williams agrees, explaining that a boutique owner is very invested in making sure the bride is happy.

“At the end of the day, it's the owner's reputation, and they have to put themselves out on the line,” Williams says. “It's important to make sure you have someone who is super knowledgeable in the field. You want to make sure you're providing the best experience for that bride. Whether they purchase from you or not, it's about the experience.”

Another advantage to boutique shopping is the ability to see and feel the gowns on the rack before trying them on. Larger chains often keep their selection in a separate area, relying on communication between the bride and the consultant to pinpoint the dream dress.

“You have free range of the store here,” says Williams. “You can pull dresses. You can get in there, pull it, touch it. That's one of the biggest differences when you're looking at a boutique.”

Wingfield shares that while they initially pull gowns for brides, brides can peruse the racks if the consultant doesn't hit the mark the first time.

“Our best feedback is that our consultants will really sit and listen to a bride to find out what she wants,” says Wingfield.

If you are looking for something different, you often can take advantage of customization at a boutique. Joan's offers custom gowns handmade by Madison. This allows her to be flexible and really cater to each bride.

“If a bride doesn't see anything she likes, we can go into that custom option,” says Madison. “The big stores don't have that customization.”

Brides interested in a custom gown from Madison go through three consultations. At the first, Madison and the bride discuss design concepts, fabrics and what the vision is for the dress. The bride will leave the first appointment with a sketch of the dress. At the second consultation, the bride has a fitting in a muslin prototype. It allows Madison to make final modifications to the gown before cutting into the actual fabric. And finally, the last meeting showcases the actual bridal gown. In all, the process takes four to six months.

Madison shares that the custom-made gowns are not the only element that set her store apart; the unique lines she carries add another element.

“I like to have things that aren't the same style you find everywhere,” says Madison. “We get to really pamper our brides. They absolutely love it.”

Boutiques don't come without disadvantages, though. Larger stores or those with multiple locations can have a wider selection and better size ranges in the sample gowns. Trousseau Bridal recently began carrying plus-size gowns and is one of the few shops in Columbus to do so. Williams recommends asking ahead of time if a store carries plus-size gowns to ensure your needs are met.

Boutiques also may have a higher price point for their gowns, compared to their larger shop counterparts. However, Williams says, you're typically going to have a little more confidence in the quality of the gown you're purchasing.

But when it comes down to choosing your dream dress, there's nothing more important than having fun and making sure you're comfortable with the gown you choose.

“The memory [brides have] of choosing their gown is a lifetime memory,” says Wingfield. “We love celebrating love.”