What are the Differences Between Curtains, Drapes, Shades, and Blinds?

A Guide to the Most Common Window Treatments

When it comes to window treatments, there are so many options it can be a bit overwhelming to choose between them. Making it even more confusing, many people -- even interior decorators -  use the words “drapes and “curtains” interchangeably and also mix “shades” and “blinds” as if they were synonyms. But while all four types of window treatments can be used with many decorating styles and in any room of the home, each has distinct characteristics of its own. If you’ve been wondering what...MORE exactly differentiates a curtain from a drape, or a blind from a shade, read on. Here’s a brief explanation of each.

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    Contemporary bedroom wth chevron print curtains.
    Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images

    Curtains are fabric panels that are most often sold in pairs. You’ll find curtains in a wide range of widths, lengths, fabrics, colors and patterns; they are very versatile and a popular choice for every room of the home, even bathrooms and kitchens (the short, sheer curtains that cover only the bottom half of a window over a kitchen sink, frequently matched to a valance across the window’s top, are called café curtains.) In the bedroom, you’ll likely use curtains over another window treatment,...MORE such as a blind or shade, because curtains are made of lightweight fabrics – some are very sheer -- and are not lined. This means that while they do filter out some light, they won’t filter out all of it, and thus won’t keep your bedroom dark on those delightful weekend mornings when you want to sleep late.

    Curtains hang from a rod, which can be hidden and plain, or decorative and on display, depending on how the curtains are hung. There are quite a few hanging options: metal grommets, metal or fabric rings, or a fabric sleeve on the top or the back of the curtain panels are the most common.  

    Use colorful curtains to add a punch of contrast to your bedroom, or go with an interesting pattern to liven up the space. Sheer curtains add softness and femininity to a room.

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    Gorgeous orange and white bedroom.
    Photo: Stevens Fremont/Getty Images

    Like curtains, drapes are fabric panels, and typically sold in pairs. But unlike curtains, drapes are lined, sometimes with fabric heavy enough to block out all outside light, making them perfect for bedroom use. Drapes (sometimes called draperies) are long enough to reach from the top of the window to the floor, sometimes even puddling a bit beneath the window. Heavy, somewhat stiff fabrics are the norm for drapes, including luxury materials like velvet, damask or silk.

    While drapes come in a...MORE huge range of styles and colors, they are most often solid, rather than heavily patterned. The top of a drapery panel is often pleated, and there are several different styles of pleat available. These pleats, along with the heavy fabric, contribute to the formal appearance of this popular window treatment. Like curtains, drapes hang from a rod on rings, hooks, grommets or a fabric sleeve at the top or on the back of the panel.

    In the bedroom, the most popular draperies are the "blackout" style, which keep the room dark enough for deep sleep. These are an especially good choice for anyone who needs to sleep during the day, such as night shift workers.

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    Roman shades in a patriotically-themed boy's room.
    Photo: Abode/Getty Images

    A shade is a soft fabric panel that is attached to a rod or frame at the upper edge. Sold individually, shades come in a wide range of lengths, widths, colors, and materials, and are sized to fit within the window frame, unlike drapes or curtains that hang below the sill. To let in light or see outside, you need to raise the shade, using either a cord, roller, or lifting mechanism. As the shade lifts, it either bunches or rolls around a rod, depending on the shade’s style – and there are lots of...MORE styles of window shade. Simple roller shades are inexpensive, and as the name suggests, the material rolls around the top roller. Other popular types of shades are Roman shades, which pull up into deep pleats; balloon shades that pouf into balloons of fabric; and tie-up shades, which fasten with a fabric tie to hold them open. Because of the many styles, you can find a window shade to complement any decorating theme from casual to formal.

    While window shades can be dressy enough to use on their own, many people like to use them underneath sheer curtains, or topped with a valance. As with curtains, you can use shades to add a pop of color, a dash of pattern, or a dose of texture to the space.

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    Window blinds in a neutral bedroom.
    Photo: Caiaimage/Chris Ryan/Getty Images

    While blinds lift up and down with a cord or lifting mechanism like shades do, they differ in that blinds are not a solid length of fabric, but rather, are made of wood, bamboo, aluminum, or vinyl slats (also called louvers) that tilt open to let in light, or close for privacy. Because of this, it’s rarely necessary to lift the entire blind unless you are opening the window underneath.

    There are three standard depths for blind slats: ½-inch or 1-inch, which are called mini blinds, or 2-inch,...MORE which are often called Venetian blinds. The length and width of the blind is sized to fit within the window frame.

    Blinds come in many colors and many wood tones, but are not normally patterned. As they block out light very effectively, blinds are a good choice for the bedroom. Topping them with sheer curtains or a valance softens their rigid appearance, which can be somewhat bland on its own.

    While blinds with horizontal louvers are most common, there are also blinds with hanging vertical slats. These are generally used on sliding patio doors or over large sliding windows.