The various type of fashion displayed in dangdut show suggested that this music is ever changing, including the matter of image of the singers within it. According to Wallach (2017), when a singer wears clothes in striking colors made out of cheap materials it gives out the impression of a working class and is considered ‘embarrassing’. Which was why people assume that dangdut is tacky and for the people’s consumption – implying the middle to lower class community (Weintraub, 2012). But at the same time, Wallach recognized an effort made to show is also associated with luxury, which was done through the use of Western-style clothing in a few dangdut performances.
The media industry and top designers also played a hand in the effort to advanced dangdut’s reputation through style. In a 2006 interview with Weintraub, the president of TransTV admitted that Inul Daratitsta’s performance on that television channel was deliberately arranged so it looked more elegant, considering the audience market were in the middle to upper class segment. Renowned Indonesian designers such as Aji Notonegoro and Robby Tumewu lend their hands in creating Inul Daratista’s elegant look. The important role of designer in styling dangdut singers was starting to get more apparent in various dangdut talent competitions on television. In one occasion, according to a story published by Okezone.com, designer and actor Ivan Gunawan gifted a 40 million rupiah worth of dress to Delima, a contestant on KDI 2018 (Pangesti, 2018).
In relation to dangdut competitions, costumes are one of the aspects highlighted by judges. As it was evident when judges scrutinized Azizah, a contestant on KDI 2015, during her performance of the song “Maling”. Erie Suzan, one of the judges, felt that Azizah’s costume, which was considered too pretty and girly, did not match the song’s rock vibes. While Zaskia Gotik, another judge on the show, commented on Azizah’s hairstyle, saying it was too ordinary. The significance of style and costume become increasingly visible when the producers of Bintang Pantura allocated a special slot to showcase clothing from a number of designers.
Another case in point regarding the importance of appearance in dangdut competition was when in July 2018 Iis Dahlia made a comment about Waode Sofia, a KDI contestant from Bau Bau, Southeast Sulawesi. Iis – supported by the two other judges, Benigno and Trie Utamie – said Sofia weren’t properly dressed, coming in wearing only a jacket and jeans, and without makeup, thus was deemed unfit to auditioned. Moments later, Sofia reappeared; this time in a dress and was wearing makeup. The judges then allowed her to re-auditioned. A similar sentiment was also apparent in the Indonesian Dangdut Awards with the introduction of Best Costume in Dangdut, a new category that Zaskia Gotik took home in 2017.
The image of elegance and glamor accentuated through costumes by a number of female dangdut singers becomes a differentiation within the community of dangdut musicians. In an early 2000s discussion about Inul Daratista, whom often wore bold colored outfits and with an underlining sensuality in her stage acts, Weintraub (2012) compared her appearance with female dangdut singers from the 1990s. Names like Cici Paramida, Ikke Nurjanah and Itje Tresnawati were mentioned as examples of singers that exude serenity, modesty and elegance.
Going back to the issue of dangdut competition, the elegant and glamorous outfits seen on Pantura Star can be seen as an effort to boost Pantura dangdut’s image. There was a known stereotype that, in terms of outfit, Pantura dangdut was tacky and improper (Mas’udi, 2016). Yet, when speaking of stage act in Bintang Pantura, in order to maintain the distinctiveness of Pantura dandgut, sensual elements of the music was left intact. Even when wrapped in a glamorous ball gowns, the perfomers – be it the contestant or the judges – can be seen dancing sensuous moves, though not as intense as a typical dangdut shows.