The more I talk to people - that is, already married people who have been through a wedding - the more I think that getting a dress custom-made is the way to go.
For one thing, I'm a fabric whore, and although there are some pretty styles below $1000, the fabric is just *awful* - stiff, scratchy, not what I want to spend a whole day wearing.
Secondly, I'm getting a pretty good idea of what I want, but haven't seen it in decent fabric for less that $2k.
Third, as noted below, I love designing clothes and working with tailors, so it might actually be fun.
I found some tips on getting a dress made on the Offbeat Bride, as well as links to local seamstresses here and here.
If anyone out there has experience, pro or con, with getting a dress made, I'd love to hear it.