Bengaline is a silk/cotton blend, popular in the late 19th century as an alternative to pure silk. The fabric has a ribbed surface running across the warp (from selvedge to selvedge), which makes it feel sturdier than it is. It’s sometimes called Bengaline silk.
These days, the term gets applied a bit willy-nilly to any fabric with weft ribbing. It’s most usually made with silk/cotton yarns, silk/wool, or blends of polyester, nylon, acetate and/or rayon. There is a light-weight men’s suiting fabric by the same name, but the ribs are almost imperceptible. It ranges from middle to heavy-weight.
Because it was fashionable in the 1880s and 1890s, it’s a popular choice for dresses based in that period. Just be sure that you’re getting a benagline with a period-correct fiber content, which would be silk/cotton or if you’re making something for the Edwardian period (apparently bengaline came briefly back into fashion around 1912) then you could get away with silk/rayon.
Stretch bengaline exists, which features elastane in the weave. Obviously, that is NOT going to work for historically-accurate clothing, but it might be just the thing for contemporary and anime characters. In more mundane terms, it’s a popular choice for pants and suits. The ribbed surface gives it a bit of visual interest without making it too flashy.
Bengaline is available in a wide range of solid colors and some woven patterns – stripes and plaids, mostly. Because of the ribbed surface, bengaline would be too much trouble to print.
Triva note: when cut into narrow strips across the grain, bengaline fabric becomes grosgrain ribbon.
Fabric care depends on the component fibers, so pay attention to the bolt when buying. Some bengalines can be hand-washed at home, others should go to a dry-cleaner.
Sew with a universal needle and all-purpose thread.