What is the Difference Between Curtains and Drapes—and Which Should You Choose?
By: Olivia Senderson
A thesaurus might define “curtains” and “drapes” as one and the same—and that’s the way many people think of these two window treatments. Yet interior design professionals view them as completely different products, each with certain distinguishing features. That sometimes causes confusion when a customer says she wants to see curtains but is actually looking for drapes!
The mix-up is understandable, since curtains and drapes (also known as draperies) do share certain basic similarities. But understanding how the two differ will help you determine which window treatment is the right choice for you.
What Drapes and Curtains Have in Common:
- Both are fabric window coverings that are available in a number of different styles, colors, patterns and sizes; both come in a variety of heights and widths
- Typically, both can be closed or opened to cover a window
- Curtains and drapes both come with standard kinds of top construction, also known as the top hem or header. Some examples are the basic header with hooks (where drapery hooks attached to the fabric fit into rings on a rod); a rod pocket header (here, a channel sewn at the top of the header becomes the ‘pocket’ that the rod slides through; and the tab top, where flat loops of fabric hang on the rod.
Where Drapes and Curtains Are Different
Drapes vs. Curtains: Customization
- Drapes are usually custom-sized to fit the opening of the window, and sewn with a custom length, ensuring that the drapery panel will fall exactly where you want it—whether that’s breaking just above the floor or sill, or extending to few additional inches on the floor. Often, the buyer makes the choice of what kind of header a drape will have. Drapes tend to be more opaque, and quite full—two drapes should have a combined width that’s two to two-and-a-half times the width of the window they’re covering. If you want the full look of drapery without increasing the light-filtering of your room too much, wide, sheer drapery is a great option.
- Curtains typically are ready-made, all set to go on the rod with a particular type of header in place. They usually range from 63 to 144 inches long, so they may need additional hemming if a different length is desired. For the most part, curtains tend to be a bit more translucent than drapes.
Drapes vs. Curtains: Lining
- Drapes are usually lined with a protective fabric, so they will last longer and withstand any damage from the sun’s rays. Some draperies are made with a blackout lining, if the purchaser wants to achieve a room darkening effect when the drapes are closed.
- Curtains typically come without a lining. As a result, they are not as full as a drape and do not have the same light filtering features.
Drapes vs. Curtains: Small Details
Drapes customarily come with a double hem at the bottom and a double header at the top. They are constructed with something called a “lead drapery weight” at the seams and corners. These weights help the drape stay in position and hang correctly, without flaring out or blowing in the wind.
Curtains usually have a single bottom hem and single top headers. Most often, you would not find lead drapery weight already sewn into the curtain.
Not surprisingly, custom drapes tend to be seen in luxury surroundings and more formal settings; curtains are a more casual option. Whatever you choose, it helps to know the fine points of how these two popular window treatments compare, and which will work for you.