Choosing the Right Draperies

A guide to choosing the right style for your room

Window coverings are more complicated than simply draping fabric from a bar. Drapery terminology can get confusing, so use this guide to get the look you want.

When buying custom draperies, most first timers think the toughest decision is choosing the fabric. Velvet or silk? Plaid or paisley? The fabric, color and pattern options are endless. But so, too, is the list of other decisions buyers must make, from their “fullness” requirements to which type of pleat or heading they prefer. Knowing basic drapery components and terminology enables customers to communicate better with vendors so that their investment brings satisfaction for years to come.

For starters, there’s a difference between draperies – sometimes just called drapes – and curtains, though their distinctions differ depending on whom you ask. In general, draperies are heavier, pleated at the top and more formal in appearance.

“The modern tendency is to think of curtains as ready-made, often unlined and in a variety of lengths, and of draperies as made-to-order for a custom look and feel,” says designer Oneka Benn Schwartz, Design Pretty, Union City, N.J.

Functional draperies open and close by traversing across a rod, which helps control a room’s lighting and temperature. Stationary draperies, installed at the top of a window or draped down the sides, are sometimes falsely accused of doing nothing but looking pretty.

However, like their moveable counterparts, stationary draperies add personality to a room. They can frame and draw attention to the window and its view, and they create optical illusions when needed by making a window appear bigger.

Heading / Pleats

The heading style determines how the draperies will hang from the rod and makes them look dressier or sleeker as desired. Pleated drapes are a time-less choice, though the type of pleat can create a look that’s either traditional or contemporary.

“Men seem to like an inverted pleat, maybe because it’s more contemporary. When they see the more traditional two- or three-fold pleat, it looks a little frou-frou,” says Paula Berry, Custom Draperies by Paula, Crystal Springs, Miss.

By contrast, inverted pleats create a smooth line across the top when the draperies are drawn. Other pleat styles include pinch pleats with double or triple folds; pencil pleats; and goblet pleats, which are pinched at the bottom so the top of the pleat fans out to form a rounded shape.

Don’t worry too much about the terminology, though. Pleats go by different names, so what one company calls a European pleat may be referred to as a French pleat else-where, Morse says.

Other heading styles include ring-top, tab-top or grommet-top. More common for curtains than drapes, a rod pocket is a casing sewn at the top of the fabric, open at each end so the rod slips through for complete concealment.


“People think they’re going to save money if they don’t line draperies, but there are so many reasons to pay the extra cost. It adds fullness and makes the drapery hang better, it protects against sun damage and fading and it gives the fabric a truer color,” says Sally Morse, director of creative services for Hunter Douglas window treatments.

Unlined draperies permit more light to pass through, subtly altering their color or “washing out” their pattern throughout the course of a day, she explains.

Lining also creates a uniform look from the exterior, which can improve a home’s curb appeal, Morse says.
Lining options include blackout lining for light blockage; thermal or insulated backing for temperature regulation in harsher climates; and sound-insulated lining to reduce street noise. Despite its name, blackout lining is usually white or off-white but can have undertones of blue, yellow or pink that can complement or detract from a home’s exterior. Twisting or bunching up the fabric in your hand will reveal any undertones, Morse says.


Fullness refers to the width of the fabric in relation to the curtain rod, usually expressed as a ratio such as 3-to-1.

“Don’t accept anything less than 2-to-1 fullness or it’s going to look skimpy and ready-made, like it came out of a cellophane bag,” Morse warns.


The final consideration is how to hang the draperies, and this is where people tend to err, mounting them too low and too narrowly, says interior designer Laura McCroskey of Kansas City, Mo.

“Drapery rods should be hung at least 4 to 12 inches above the window casing and extend at least 3 or more inches to the sides of the casing,” she says.

Choosing a Header Style

Flat – (no header—blind hemmed), hung using drapery hooks inserted on back from decorative rings on a pole

Pinch pleat – 2, 3, 4 or 5 pleated panel: considered formal and elegant.

Goblet Pleat – top of pleat is rounded and stuffed, pleat-ed at base of “goblet”. Most often used In formal dining or formal living rooms.

Tab-top– more casual ,evenly spaced fabric tabs drapery an be embellished with buttons, trim, or left plain
Grommet – these panels come with evenly spaced hand-set grommets. Come in a variety of sizes and colors.

Parisian/French pleat – pleat is tacked at the top of the pleat rather than the bottom. bit more casual , but considered formal.

Cuffed – can be pleated or flat, but with a “cuff” from 6 to 12 inches

Ruched – very elegant—pleats gath-ered several inches before single fold pleats are sewn in

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