Curtains vs. Drapes — What’s the Difference?

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Image Credit: Hunker in Partnership With Acme Real Estate

Installing new window treatments is an easy way to transform a room with minimal investment of time, money, or effort. But even before you decide on color, texture, and length of your window coverings, you'll first need to choose: curtains or drapes?

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Though these terms are often used interchangeably, there are actually distinct differences between the two. Ready to dress your windows, but not sure which type of treatment you need? Here's how to tell drapes and curtains apart — and decide which ones are best for your room.

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When it comes to drapes vs. curtains, the biggest difference is that drapes typically hang all the way to the floor and are usually made from heavy, light-blocking fabric, whereas curtains may or may not cover the full length of the window and can be made from any material.

Similarities Between Drapes and Curtains

There's a good reason that drapes and curtains are so frequently confused with one another, and it's because they are very similar. Both drapes and curtains are fabric panels installed on a curtain rod. These panels are used to cover windows and are usually (but not always) sold in pairs. Both options come in many different styles, with some popular options including:

  • Flat drapery panels with no pleats
  • Pinch pleats with three folds of fabric pinched together approximately 3 inches from the top
  • Inverted draperies that have pleats at the back of the fabric
  • Euro-pleat draperies that have pleats pinched at the top front of the fabric
  • Rod pocket designs that have a built-in pocket for the curtain rod
  • Fabric tab-top designs that hang on the rod by the tabs
  • Tie-top designs that are tied onto the curtain rod
  • Grommet tops that allow the curtain rod to slide through the built-in grommets

Curtains without their own built-in attachment method, such as flat panels and those with pleats, require some type of hardware to keep them attached to the curtain rod, which may include loops or ring clips.

What Are Drapes?

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Drapes are long fabric panels that reach all the way from the top of a window to the floor and may even puddle on the ground. Because of their length, drapes can often be custom sized to fit the exact dimensions of a window. These usually come with a lining, which may be light or heavy, and they are often used to block out the light from the sun entirely.

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Because drapery panels are generally more formal in appearance, they tend to be made from stiffer, thicker, more luxurious fabrics, such as silk, velvet, rayon, sateen, satin, and brocade.

What Are Curtains?

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The biggest distinction between drapes and curtains is the length. Whereas drapes hang all the way to the floor, curtains may cover all or only part of a window. Curtains tend to appear more casual than drapes, though there are still plenty of luxury curtain options available. Due to their versatility, there are far more varieties of curtains than drapes since they come in a number of sizes, styles, materials, fabrics, and patterns.

While you can get curtains in all the same materials that are common in drapes, casual materials, such as linen, wool, poplin, and cotton, are also popular. For sheer curtains, the best options are typically lace, muslin, or voile.

While drapes tend to come in heavy, thicker materials, it is still possible to get thick blackout curtains in any size if you don't want your light-blocking window treatment to stretch to the floor. Alternatively, you can let in lots of light and install sheer curtains that only cover the window itself, or you can always pair curtains with other window treatments to let in as little or as much light as you want. For example, putting curtains over blinds or roman shades adds visual interest to a room and gives you full control of your natural lighting level. You can also install sheer curtains under drapes so you can open the drapes to let in filtered light and still retain some level of privacy or open both window treatments to let in full sunlight.

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Which Window Treatment Should I Use?

If you like a regal, traditional look, you may want to opt for drapes in your whole home. If you like plenty of natural light and a cozier feel, then you might prefer curtains. It usually makes sense to choose between curtains and drapes on a room-by-room basis. Curtains are typically the best window treatments for rooms like the kitchen and living room, where you typically have a more relaxed atmosphere and want more light. If you have a formal dining room or family room to entertain guests, drapes made from a heavy fabric can elevate the look.

In bedrooms, many prefer drapes because they look elegant, block out light, provide more privacy, and even damper sound. On the other hand, if you're an early riser and like to wake up to warm sunlight, curtains may be a better choice to let in morning light while still providing sufficient privacy from your neighbors.

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Jill Harness is a blogger with experience covering architecture, design and decor trends from around the globe. As she lives in what would politely be called a "fixer upper," she is particularly interested in writing about DIY projects and repairs. Most of her home design writing can be found at www.homesandhues.com. You can find out more about Jill's experience and learn how to contact her through her website, www.jillharness.com.