I'm also somebody who had no idea people cared about pure white vs. off-white! My sister and I both had ivory because it suits our skin tone. Nobody commented on it to my knowledge! (And one of us was "eligible" to wear pure white by the ridiculous traditional standard, the other one wasn't
that was not a factor we even remotely considered relevant!).
I was a young bride and a bit self-conscious of people thinking I was just getting married for a big dress and fun. I was scared people wouldn't take me seriously so thought I should have a sensible dress. DH however dreamt of a beautiful princess gown - he even drew me a picture!
I ended up getting a dress from my favourite wedding dress designer who I'd admired for years. It had a very flattering long corset waist which gave me shape, and meant the fit was great. It cost $1500. The surprising thing was I ended up strapless which was something I'd never liked, but it worked really well. It's the only time I've ever worn a strapless dress, ever! It looked amazing though, and I loved the feel of the high quality fabric and beading. Also because this designer specialises in the corset waist it was a very well-made strapless gown and fitted perfectly.
I actually did go dress shopping with my sister to the store she bought her dress from which were cheap imports from China and very affordable. The dresses looked nice, but I could tell how cheap the fabrics were, and it just didn't appeal to me. I just don't like cheap lace. She was happy with her dress, and the photos are lovely, it just wasn't something to my taste. I've had other friends who have also been very proud of their affordable wedding dresses, and I've been happy for them, but in all honesty I thought the dresses looked cheap in terms of fabric, cut and fit. Which is fine because if they're happy that's all that matters!! I guess I just have expensive taste when it comes to fabric?? In my day to day life I am somebody who happily and typically shops at cheap department stores for my work clothes and everyday wear - I'm definitely not a designer girl. But for me a fancy dress needs to be made with good quality fabric in order to sit nicely and feel beautiful to wear. All of my "fancy" dresses are higher end and lovely fabrics. I have seen some stunning home-made wedding dresses made from good quality fabric, so I think that is one way to do it affordably if you have the sewing skills available. In my case I was afraid of it not turning out the way I'd envisioned so preferred to buy off the rack. (Mine was made to order but based on a floor model so I knew exactly how it would look). So far I've never seen a really, really cheap wedding dress in person that I personally thought looked really great, but that's just been my experience - I have seen some nice ones posted on eHell so it's possible in other parts of the world there are some more affordable options available that are better quality! But based on my experience, when I hear somebody boasting about how little they spent I don't think "Wow that's awesome!" I just think you get what you pay for, and if they're happy with what they spent good for them. It's a choice though.