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Interior designer and Blessed Little Bungalow blogger Amber Guyton has firsthand experience with mistakenly lumping curtains and drapes together. “Growing up, everything was a curtain,” she says. And honestly? Same. To clear up the confusion, we chatted with her about how exactly to tell the window treatments apart and when to use each. Learning to distinguish between drapes versus curtains will refine your approach to shopping and decorating—in other words, it’s a win-win. Read on for Guyton’s tips.

The Differences Between Drapes Versus Curtains

How to Identify Drapes

Photography by Brittany Ambridge

By definition, drapes are decorative window coverings with loose folds that hang gracefully. They’re more on the formal side, and tend to be either lined or made of thick, full fabrics like velvet that have light-blocking, room-insulating properties. Drapes also extend well past the window molding and over the wall in order to prevent drafts and stifle noises. They’re generally long in length, too (we love an elegant panel that pools). Some can be hand-washed and steamed but they are generally dry clean only. You can buy single drapes or get them in pairs.

When to Use Drapes

Photography by Brittany Ambridge

Wherever you want to easily keep light, heat, or privacy levels to your liking, Guyton says. “If you live in a colder climate, heavier, thicker, lined drapes will help keep the room warm, especially if your windows aren’t completely doing the job.” In a bedroom, drapes foster a better sleeping environment, specifically for anyone who works non-traditional hours or babies or children who take daytime naps. Compared to the laid-back look of curtains, drapes up the elegance in a room. They’re the quickest way to bring the fancy and the drama to basic windows.

How to Identify Curtains

Standard curtain fabrics are on the lighter side, like linen or Belgian flax, and they’re more light-filtering than drapes—maybe even sheer. Unless you’re buying them specifically to block noise, sound, or sun, they’re not usually lined. Curtains are generally machine- or hand-washable.

When to Use Curtains

Where filtering light isn’t a huge priority, Guyton recommends curtains. They create an open, airy environment and allow in a ton of natural brightness, which can keep a tight gathering spot from feeling too crowded. They’re often paired with blinds or shades to offer more light direction (helpful for plant owners) or to strictly accentuate your windows.

Guyton’s Drapes Versus Curtains Tie-Breaker

If you’re on the fence, Guyton has a simple formula. If you need to put function first, go with drapes; if your primary focus is aesthetics, shop for curtains. “I have plantation shutters on all of my windows, and the curtains don’t offer full coverage. They’re on the side to complement the room versus actually having a functional purpose,” Guyton says. “They’re like the jewelry to go with the dress.”