Drapes vs Curtains: Defining the Similarities and Differences

While most people are familiar with paneled window treatments, the difference between drapes and curtains confuses many. The variation is minimal and nuanced but still distinct.

Drapes vs CurtainsView in gallery

Therefore, in order to choose the right window treatment to work with your style, needs, and budget, it is important to understand the differences that set these window treatments apart.

Drapes vs. Curtains

Drapes vs Curtains 2View in gallery
Chris Loves Julia

The reason people confuse these fabric panels is that they are similar in style and design. However, there are notable disparities between these types of window treatments.


First, drapes and curtains are both panel-style window coverings. This means that they are both constructed from flat panels of fabric that you hang on either side of the window frame.

Next, both curtains and drapes hang in a vertical fashion from a curtain rod or other similar hardware.

Also, you can leave them to hang unhindered or pull them back with tie-backs. Last, both are decorative window treatments that work well to block out light and bring more privacy into your interior spaces.


The most noticeable disinclination between curtains vs drapes are that curtains are created using lighter weight fabric compared to drapes which use thicker fabrics that have a more formal style.

Next, most curtain designs are more casual than drapes which have a luxurious appearance. Also, most curtains are unlined unlike drapes that are lined with at least one if not two extra layers to create a pleasant draping effect.

In addition, some drapes, unlike curtains, have a decorative header like a pelmet or valance to amplify its formality. Last, drapes tend to be floor length compared with curtains that are many different lengths from café curtains that brush the bottom of the window frame to curtains that hang to the floor.

Curtain Inspiration

Most curtains are crafted from casual fabrics and have a simple shape. These are one of the most popular window treatment options available. We have gathered some examples to show you the different styles and designs that you can get from curtains.

Cotton and Linen Curtains

Cotton and Linen CurtainsView in gallery
Two Twenty One

Cotton and linen are both common curtain material. This fabric is light and allows ample natural light through its open weave. The designer for this family room has hung the curtain rods above the window frame in order to draw the eye upwards and make the ceiling look taller.

If you like this look, choose curtains that are light in color and pair them with natural textured roman shades. This will  allow you to block out light when you want.

Sheer curtains

Sheer curtainsView in gallery
Att Pynta

If you want to allow even more light into your room, consider a sheer curtain option. These linen curtains have an open weave that allows more sunlight to shine through but still maintains privacy. Sheer curtains are wonderful in common areas but are not as good a choice for bedrooms because they don’t keep the room dark enough for sleeping.

Blackout Curtains

Blackout CurtainsView in gallery
Chris Loves Julia

Blackout curtains are more similar to drapes than other curtains, but there are still some differences in blackout curtains vs drapes. Most blackout curtains are heavier than standard curtains but lighter than drapes.

This is because the manufacturers have built the blackout lining into the fabric of the curtains. Blackout curtains are perfect in this nursery to provide the atmosphere for sound sleep.

Casual Curtain Header

Casual Curtain HeaderView in gallery

Metal grommets are one of the hanging options available that create a casual style. Other options like pleats and gathers on a curtain header create a more formal appearance. Metal grommets are rings that the manufacturers have fitted into the curtain header. These rings go straight onto the curtain rod.

Café Curtains

Café CurtainsView in gallery
Making it in the Mountains

Not all curtains cover the whole window. Some people use curtains on the upper or lower part of the window to give some privacy and block out light while keeping the window open for the view. These are popular in kitchens where privacy is not as important as in a bedroom or bathroom.

Patterned Curtains

Patterned CurtainsView in gallery
Wicked AF

Some of our favorite drapes have lovely and distinctive patterns. However, unlike drapes which feature jacquard and brocade patterns, many curtain patterns are more like floral chintz and delicate plaids. These curtains are crafted from a striking green floral print that is unlined.

Drape Inspiration

If you are looking for more luxurious window treatment options, you should consider drapes. These are perfect for formal homes or rooms where you want to create a fancy style.

Velvet Drapes

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Velvet is an incredible choice for drapery panels. Luxurious fabrics like this make a room more dramatic and elegant. Velvet, and other heavy fabrics like this, is good for insulating against cold air and reducing noise.

Silk Drapes

Silk DrapesView in gallery

This drapery panel is made from a luminous silk. The designer has allowed the drape to pool on the floor for extra extravagance. Also, notice that these drapes which the designer has fastened to the rod with fabric rings connected to the gathered header. The drapes are extra wide to make sure that both drapes can cover the windows.

Drapes with a Pelmet

Drapes with a PelmetView in gallery
Kate Forman

Some formal drapes have pelmet or valance headers. Pelmets are headers that you fit over the top of the curtains. These are decorative but they also cover the window hardware. Many designers use pelmet headings in historic settings.

Patterned Drapes

Patterned DrapesView in gallery

Notice the formal pattern of these striking drapes. They feature a formal floral pattern on a yellow ochre background with an edging that is decorative but also creates a more sumptuous style. Patterned drapes work well with simple but elegant home decor.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What is the top part of a curtain called?

Experts call the top of curtains and drapes headers. There are many styles of headers and each create a unique style and look for the curtain. The type of header you choose affects the way that you hang the curtain either on the rod or from curtain rings. Simple rod pocket and metal grommet headers are a way to hang the curtain from the curtain rod. Headers that are gathered and pleated require curtain hooks and rings for the curtains to hang from the rod.

Why are drapes called drapes?

The word drape comes from the Old French word draperie. This refers to decorative cloth and textiles used for windows and also to the cloth traded and sold by drapers.

Are drapes out of style?

Drapes and curtains will never be out of style in some settings. However, there are many people now who opt for simpler style window treatments like blinks.

Do curtains have to touch the floor?

No, curtains do not have to touch the floor. Curtains, unlike drapes, come in many lengths. Curtains hang from the top or middle of the window and fall to either the bottom of the window or down towards the floor. In contrast, drapes are more formal in style and most drapes hang from above the window to the floor. Also, many designers create formal drapes to puddle on the floor for a luxurious style.

Do curtains keep cold out?

Yes, curtains are not just decorative. They keep the cold out as well as reduce noise in the room. Curtains and drapes create an air gap between the window and the room to keep the cold air contained. In addition, curtains can help keep a room cool if they are blackout curtains or thermal insulated curtains.


Window treatments are an essential part of home decor and the overall look of the room, and there are so many different styles that you can choose. Drapes and curtains have wonderful benefits and work well with many styles.

However, it is important to understand the differences in these similar window treatments. That way, you can choose the best option for your budget, style, and for your type of windows.