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Tailored Pleat Drapery made of Harbor Stripe in Sand could be described as drapes vs curtains but both can be used
March 20, 2024

Drapes vs Curtains: Differences & How to Choose

The distinction between drapes vs curtains is slight and the two terms are often used interchangeably — and not incorrectly. Both drapes and curtains refer to panels of fabric that hang from a curtain rod or track system. They come in a variety of pleat styles and share many of the same customization options including fabric selection, lining options, hardware choices and more.

To better understand whether this type of window treatment is right for your space, explore what the differences between curtains vs drapes are, then dive into their many similarities.

Cover photo: Tailored Pleat Drapery, Victoria Hagan Harbor Stripe in Sand, design by Victoria Hagan, photography by William Waldron

considering other window treatments?

Learn the differences between all the main types of window coverings including Drapery, Shades and Blinds in our comprehensive guide. READ THE GUIDE

What’s the Difference Between Drapes vs Curtains?

Historically, the main difference between drapes vs curtains comes down to fabric:

  • “Drapes” and “Drapery” have typically been used to refer to thick, long, lined panels of fabric with an elevated, luxe look.
  • “Curtains” has typically been used to refer to thinner, unlined fabrics like sheers as well as shorter, less formal panels like café curtains.

Learn more about each term through the lens of several factors so you can get a better understanding of your options.

Understanding Drapery

Ripple Fold Drapery in Wool Flannel, Glacier, in an upscale apartment could be called drapes vs curtains but both can be used
Pictured: Ripple Fold Drapery, Holland & Sherry Wool Flannel in Glacier, photography by John Bessler

Get a deeper understanding of drapery through the following factors:

  • Fabric: Between drapes vs curtains, drapes typically feature thicker, higher-end fabrics like velvet, silk or wool.
  • Length: Drapery extends all the way to floor, or beyond, with break- and puddle-length options.
  • Lining & Fullness: Drapery almost always features lining in addition to thick fabrics, so your drape panels look lush and full — and provide excellent light blocking, privacy control and insulation.
  • Functionality: Thanks to their thicker panels, drapes are best in rooms where a room darkening effect and privacy are essential, such as bedrooms, living rooms and media rooms. Their insulation also makes them ideal for rooms with a draft since they’ll help to block the cold air and keep your room more comfortable.
  • Aesthetics: In comparing drapes vs curtains, drapery is typically considered to be the more formal option, thanks to its higher-end materials and lush fullness.

Understanding Curtains

Sill-length Pinch Pleat Drapery made of Emerson in Sky in a bedroom could be called curtains vs drapes but both could be used
Pictured: Pinch Pleat Drapery, Holland & Sherry Emerson in Sky, design by James Huniford

Learn more about the classic definition of curtains through the following factors:

  • Fabric: Between curtains vs drapes, curtains are typically made from thinner, often sheer, fabrics like linen, cotton or synthetic blends like polyester.
  • Length: There is no standard length for curtains. They can be short, like café curtains and sill-length curtains, or floor-length. However, they typically do not puddle on the floor like Drapery.
  • Lining & Fullness: Curtain fabrics are light and unlined, so they don’t have much fullness to them.
  • Functionality: Thanks to their lighter, sheer materials, curtains offer a little bit of privacy while still letting natural light and a gentle breeze into your room.
  • Aesthetics: Between curtains vs drapes, curtains are considered less formal. Their sheer panels offer a casual, breezy charm to any room.

Drapes vs Curtains at The Shade Store

While the terms “drapes” and “curtains” can be used to refer to slightly different styles of window treatments, they are more often used interchangeably. The Shade Store offers custom-made Drapery that can be made from a wide variety of fabric and be cut to any length you desire. So, we use the terms “drapes” and “curtains” interchangeably since our product offering encompasses styles, fabrics and lengths that suit the classic definitions of both.

Customization Similarities Between Curtains & Drapes

Tailored Pleat Drapery made of Jasmine in Sky in a sunny conservatory could be called drapes vs curtains but both can be used
Pictured: Tailored Pleat Drapery, Victoria Hagan Jasmine in Sky, design by Victoria Hagan

Between curtains vs drapes, the two terms are used interchangeably as they feature many of the same customization options. When choosing between drapes vs curtains, it’s less about choosing between one or the other and more about choosing the customizations that best fit your needs. Your preferred selections of fabric, pleat style, hardware, lining and length will ultimately determine whether curtains or drapes are best for your space.

Customizations that will determine between drapes vs curtains for your space include:

Fabric swatches from the Nate Berkus collection are laid on a white table and can be used for drapes or curtains


Even through drapes are typically made with thicker fabrics and curtains made with thinner fabrics, you can actually use any fabric you like for your window treatments, whether they’re long like drapes or shorter like curtains.

Pictured: Drapery Fabric Swatches, Nate Berkus Collection

pleat styles

Both drapes and curtains feature the same range of pleat styles, from sleek, modern Ripple Fold Drapery to classic Pinch Pleat Drapery to contemporary Grommet Drapery and more. Keep in mind that the pleat style you choose may limit your hardware options as some pleat styles are only compatible with track systems while others are only compatible with rod and rings hardware.

Pictured: Tailored Pleat Drapery, Holland & Sherry Andes in Lake and Steel Hardware in Antique Bronze, design by James Huniford

A close-up of Tailored Pleat Drapery with Steel Hardware shows there is little difference between drapes vs curtains
Drapery hardware pieces on a gray table show the range of styles that can be used for both drapes and curtains


Between drapes vs curtains, both feature the same hardware options, including track systems, rod and rings hardware and simple tension rods.  However, tension rods and simpler rod and ring hardware designs are more likely to be used for curtains vs drapes, since they suit the casual aesthetic. More elegant rod and ring systems as well as track systems, especially motorized tracks, are more likely to be used with formal drapes vs curtains thanks to their more elevated appearance and functionality.

Pictured: Drapery Hardware


Used for fuller drapery panels and to provide greater privacy, light control and insulation, you can add lining to any fabric. Lining options include:

  • Privacy – For excellent privacy and a hint of natural light filtration.
  • Blackout – For complete privacy and a room darkening effect.
  • Interlining – Add interlining, which is a cotton flannel insert, for greater fullness and insulation.

Pictured: Tailored Pleat Drapery, Victoria Hagan Petal in Pearl, design by Victoria Hagan

A close-up of Tailored Pleat Drapery made of Petal in Pearl has blackout lining which is often used for drapes vs curtains
The bottom of Ripple Fold Drapery in Basket Sheer, Winter, floats above the floor which is more common for drapes vs curtains


The ideal length for your drapery or curtains will depend on your aesthetic preferences as well as functional needs. Typically, floor-length or shorter panels are better for easy daily adjustments. Long puddle-length drapery is best for decorative stationary panels.

Pictured: Ripple Fold Drapery, Basket Sheer in Winter, design by Anita Yokota for the 2019 Real Simple Home, photography by Christopher Testani for Real Simple

How to Choose Between Curtains vs Drapes

Now that you know the customization options between curtains vs drapes, learn about factors to consider to help you decide on the right selections for your particular project.

Factors to consider include:

Type of Room & Functionality

A sunny living room with Pinch Pleat Drapery made of Surrey Stripe in Morel and Natural delivers a warm earthy tone
Pictured: Pinch Pleat Drapery, Nate Berkus Surrey Stripe in Morel and Natural, design by Nate Berkus

When thinking about the type of room, it’s best to think about it in terms of its functionality. What do you plan on doing in the room, and between drapes vs curtains, which is more appropriate for the space? A kitchen, for instance, is a place full of activity with lots of potential for sprays and spills from the sink, countertops where you prep food and table where you eat. In this case, long, luscious drapery is likely not ideal. Instead, short café curtains or sill-length curtains are a great choice as the short panels will stay out of the way of your dishwashing, food prepping and meals.

On the other hand, a formal living room where you entertain family and friends and feature your best furniture and décor will likely benefit most from thick, tall drapery. The luscious, lined panels will suit the formal aesthetic while also providing needed privacy and excellent light control to protect your furnishings from the sun’s harmful rays.

Light & Privacy Needs

Light and privacy needs tie closely into the type of room and how you’ll use it. For instance, a bedroom requires a room darkening effect for better sleep and excellent privacy, so blackout-lined drapery is ideal. On the other hand, a sunroom with lots of natural light may require minimal privacy, so sheer curtains that soften the light and allow a gentle breeze will be perfect.

Insulation Needs

Pinch Pleat Drapery made of Wool Flannel in Walnut shows the importance of insulation when comparing drapes vs curtains
Pictured: Pinch Pleat Drapery, Wool Flannel in Walnut, photography by Anne Gattilia

When comparing drapes vs curtains in terms of insulation needs, drapes are almost always the better choice as the thick, lined floor-length panels help trap cold air at the window so your room stays more temperate. Drape panels are also great for blocking the sun in warmer climates, so that your room stays cooler during the hottest times of day.

Existing Aesthetic & Décor

When deciding between drapes vs curtains, it’s also important to consider your existing décor. Your choice in drape or curtain fabric, hardware and pleat style should all complement your space in terms of formality, color scheme, textures, patterns and more. For instance, light, airy curtains may look out of place in a formal dining room with dark colors and visually heavy furniture, while thick, lush drapes will look out of place in a bright, airy breakfast nook.

Inspiration for Drapes & Curtains

See how all the factors above come together in curated spaces featuring drapes and curtains.

Dive Deeper Into Drape & Curtain Options

With a clearer understanding of the differences and similarities between drapes vs curtains, as well as inspiring examples of each, you’re ready to start making your own selections. Visit a showroom to experience all the options available to you in terms of pleat style, hardware, lining, fabric and more. Plus, you’ll meet our dedicated Design Consultants who can answer your questions and help you decide on the right selections for your space.

A round white table with cream chairs sits in a custom window treatment showroom with drapery, shades and blinds displayed.


Visit your local showroom for interactive displays of all our products, 1300+ material swatches and helpful Design Consultants ready to assist you.