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Shopping for curtains may sound like a simple feat. After all, you really just need to find a set that fits in your window and looks great in your home—right? Not quite. In truth, there are actually many different kinds of curtains out there, and they can vary immensely in terms of length, opacity, style, and more.
To help you understand all your curtain options, we’ve crafted a beginner-friendly guide to the many types of curtains that are on offer. Reference this the next time you’re choosing curtains for your home—or the next time you want to impress your friends with a little interior design trivia.
Curtains by Length
Learning all there is to know about curtains can be a daunting task, so let’s start with a familiar topic: curtain length. Classic panel curtains—the kind that come to mind when you hear the word “curtains”—are available in a few different lengths: sill, apron, floor, and puddle.
Sill curtains start at the top of your window (or just above it) and stop at your window sill. These curtains are typically used with smaller windows, and they’re especially helpful when you don’t want your curtains draping the ground. For example, if there’s a small window above your kitchen sink, you probably don’t want a set of floor-length curtains.
Apron curtains start at the top of your window (or just above it) and stop several inches below it. Once again, these curtains are often used with smaller windows, and since they create the illusion of more height, they can be great for making your windows look bigger.
Floor curtains start at the top of your window (or just above it) and stop just above your floor. When paired with smaller windows, floor curtains can create the illusion of more height, and when paired with floor-length windows, floor curtains can create a sleeker, more modern look than you’d get from even longer curtains.
Puddle curtains start at the top of your window (or just above it) and stop several inches below your floor. This added length causes the curtains to puddle on your floor, giving your space a seriously luxurious look. Puddle curtains can be paired with windows of any size, and they’re sure to look dramatic and glamorous anywhere they’re hung.
Curtains by Style
When it comes to curtains, size isn’t the only thing that matters. Style matters a lot, too. And though you may be familiar with the classics—like panels, valances, and tiers—there are likely a handful of curtain styles you’ve never even seen or heard of before.
Panel curtains boast a classic and simple design: A large, rectangular piece of fabric hangs just above your window and drapes straight down to the ground. These panels can stretch out to cover the entirety of your window, or you can let in some light by sliding them to the slide of your window and letting them bunch up.
You can snag curtain panels individually or in pairs, depending on what your space needs. And you’re likely to see them everywhere.
Valances (Window Toppers)
Ever seen a teeny-tiny curtain that runs along just the top of a window? That’s a valance—also known as a window topper. Valances can be used on their own. But they typically accompany a pair of panel curtains in a window treatment set.
Tiers (Cafe Curtains)
Tiers are a lot like valances, but they run along the bottom of a window, rather than the top. Window tiers—also known as cafe curtains—can be great when you want a combination of privacy and natural light. You can buy them individually or in pairs. And you may see them paired with a valance or a swag (a special kind of valance we’ll talk about in a bit).
Window scarves are narrow strips of fabric that you drape over a curtain rod. (This makes them different from most other curtains, which are hung from a curtain rod.) Window scarves can vary in length, resembling everything from a valance to a set of floor-length curtains. And since they won’t block out any light (they can’t be shut, because they’re draped rather than hung), they’re a strictly decorative option you can use to add a touch of drama to your home.
If you’re craving the functionality of blinds—and the classic elegance of curtains—balloon shades may be exactly what you’re looking for. Balloon shades are fabric panels that typically start just above your window and stop at your window sill. And they boast a scalloped design at the bottom, which you can shorten to let more light in whenever you want to.
When shortened, balloon shades look like a fancy valance. And when extended, they look like fabric blinds.
Austrian curtains are a lot like panel curtains—except they’re scalloped from top to bottom. Some are designed to be adjusted, just like balloon shades. But others are designed to be hung like traditional panel curtains.
Priscilla curtains offer a frillier take on panel curtains. The ruffle-lined curtains typically come in sets of two, and you may see them accompanied by ties (which you can use to cinch the curtains and tie them back) and/or valances.
Many modern-day Priscilla curtains are designed to be hung like classic panel curtains. But more traditional options are designed to be hung on two separate curtain rods. By stretching each Priscilla panel out on its own rod, you can create an overlapping effect with your Priscilla curtains, making them look even more dramatic.
A swag is a special type of valance that boasts a high-low design. This means its center is short—just like that of a traditional balance. But its edges drape down the sides of the window, like a set of sill curtains. This unique design allows you to let light in, while creating the drapey aesthetic you’d expect from a curtain.
Curtains by Header
Once you understand the sizes and shapes that curtains come in, you should be able to do a pretty good job buying curtains for your home. But if you really want to understand your curtain options, you also need to think about how those curtains are pleated—and how they’re hung. These two features make up the curtain’s header. And while they primarily affect panel curtains, they can apply to any kind of curtain you’d hang from a rod.
Ripple Fold, Flat Pleat, or Flat Panel Curtains
Ripple fold curtains—also known as flat pleat curtains or flat panel curtains—have pleats when they’re bunched together, but look completely flat when stretched out. These curtains are hung from curtain rods using a series of hooks, and they’re likely the style of curtains you’ve hung before, assuming you didn’t get too fancy with your drapery.
Like ripple fold curtains, grommet curtains have pleats when they’re bunched up and look flat when they’re stretched out. But instead of being suspended by hooks, the curtains boast a series of large, built-in holes that you can slide directly onto your curtain rod.
Cubicle curtains are exactly like grommet curtains, but the holes they’re lined with are incredibly small. This means that instead of sliding the holes directly onto your curtain rod, you have to hang them from hooks.
Rod Pocket Curtains
Like grommet curtains, rod pocket curtains are designed to slide directly onto your curtain rod. But instead of boasting a series of large built-in holes, rod pocket curtains boast a single hole—a curtain rod pocket—which is made from the same material as the rest of the curtains. This pocket looks ruched when the curtains are bunched to one side, and both the pocket and the curtains look flat when stretched out.
Tab Top Curtains
Tab top curtains are lined with a series of fabric loops that you can slide directly onto your curtain rod. These loops typically match the color, print, and texture of the rest of the curtains, creating elegant continuity from top to bottom.
Cuffed, Wrapped, or Gathered Tab Top Curtains
Cuffed tab top curtains—also called wrapped or gathered tab top curtains—are classic tab top curtains with a bit of aesthetic flair. Instead of boasting the sleek fabric loops you’d find on classic tab top curtains, cuffed tab top curtains boast thicker loops, which are typically bunched together and cinched with a matching tie.
Tailored, European, or Parisian Pleat Curtains
Tailored pleat curtains—also known as European pleat curtains or Parisian pleat curtains—are typically hung by a series of hooks, and they boast a small pleat in each place where the hook meets the curtain. This pleat tapers at the top of the hook and expands as it goes down, creating a soft pleat in the curtains.
Pinch and French Pleat Curtains
Pinch pleat curtains are a lot like tailored pleat curtains. But instead of the pleat tapering at the top of the curtain, the pleat cinches several inches down from the top. This creates an hourglass-like shape. Pinch pleat curtains can have 2–5 folds within each pleat.
You may hear these folds referred to as fingers. French pleat curtains are pinch-pleat curtains with a three-finger pleat—meaning there are three small folds in each pinched pleat.
Box Pleat Curtains
Box pleat curtains boast crisp rectangular pleats (like the kind you’d expect to find on a tennis skirt). These pleats are formed by creasing fabric behind each rectangular pleat—meaning that from above, you’d see a series of folded triangles.
Unlike many other curtains, box pleat curtains are not easy to open and close. The pleats are not very flexible, so box pleat curtains are best when used purely decoratively.
Inverted (Box) Pleat Curtains
Inverted pleat curtains—or inverted box pleat curtains—are exactly what they sound like: box pleat curtains that have been turned around. This means that instead of seeing box pleats running up and down your curtains, you’ll see what’s behind them. This is typically a series of similarly rectangular pleats, but they’re positioned much closer together.
Goblet Pleat Curtains
Goblet pleat curtains are like pinch pleat curtains, in that their pleats cinch a few inches below the top of the curtain. But what makes them stand out is the shape they form above this cinching point. Whereas other pleats are topped with small, intricate folds, the goblet pleat is topped with a round shape—which, unsurprisingly, looks a little like a goblet.
Because this shape is so carefully and stiffly formed, goblet pleat curtains aren’t particularly flexible—making them best for decorative use.
Butterfly Pleat Curtains
Butterfly pleat curtains are basically pinch pleat curtains with just one fold. This makes them look like a less round—and decidedly more subtle—version of goblet pleat curtains.
Pencil Pleat Curtains
Pencil pleat curtains look like rod pocket curtains, but instead of being slid onto a curtain rod, the curtains are hung using a series of hooks. This gives you the ruched top you’d expect from a set of rod pocket curtains—with a little added flexibility.
Curtains by Opacity
Once you’ve settled on a curtain shape and style you love, it’s time to decide how thick or opaque you want your curtains to be. Since curtains are typically available in sheer, semi-sheer, and opaque variations, you have options, but not an overwhelming amount.
Sheer curtains can be great when you want the decorative appeal of curtains—without the privacy or light-block capabilities that thicker curtains can provide. Sheer curtains can be made from an array of different fabrics, including chiffon, gauze, voile, and more.
Most curtains fall into the semi-sheer category. They’re opaque enough to offer privacy, but sheer enough to let some light in. And you may see them made from linens, cottons, or polyester blends.
If blocking out light is your top priority, you may want a set of blackout curtains. These curtains are typically made from heavy materials, and they often come with built-in linings that make them even more opaque. Blackout curtains may not be right for every scenario, but they can be particularly useful in bedrooms and home theaters.
Other Curtain Considerations
While the above categories will cover most of the curtains you’ll encounter, there are some specific-use-case curtains worth being familiar with, as well.
Curtain liners can be added to many different kinds of curtains to make them thicker and more opaque. These curtain liners can snap onto the black of your curtain, or hang just behind it. And you can find them in many of the same styles that ordinary curtains are available in.
If you have glass doors, you may want to consider door panels. These small curtains are designed to span the glass portions of French doors, and they allow you to block out some light without inhibiting a door’s ability to open and close.
Outdoor curtains are classic curtains that have been designed to hold up outside. These curtains are often UV-resistant and water-repellant. And you can hang them from a patio, pergola, or some other outdoor structure.
Thermal curtains are designed to insulate your windows, keeping the temperature in your home more consistent. These curtains are often made from heavier materials. And some even come equipped with a foam liner that makes them even better insulators.
You may not have heard of them, but noise-reducing curtains really do exist. These curtains are typically crafted from heavy materials, and they often boast thick, sound-absorbing liners.