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

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 use the words “drapes and “curtains” interchangeably and also use “shades” and “blinds” synonymously. 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 exactly differentiates a curtain from a drape, or a blind from a shade, read on. Here’s a brief explanation of each.

Grey, white and red bedroom with chevron curtains. - Hero Images/Getty Images

Lightweight curtains are often used over a blind or shade.
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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, 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.  

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Gorgeous orange and white bedroom with orange drapes. - Stevens Fremont/Getty Images

Heavy and lined, drapes are sometimes layered over sheerer window treatments.
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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 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.

Roman shade in flag-themed boy's bedroom. - Abode/Getty Images

Roman shade in a patriotically-themed child’s bedroom.
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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 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.

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

Blinds make it easy to adjust the level of light.
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 can 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, 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.