When I first moved out of my parents’ home, I had to make an investment in getting some curtains. I was, after all, not going to change clothing while my windows are open to the world. The moment I went to Sears for curtain shopping, it became clear that I was in over my head. There were SO MANY TYPES of curtains. Feeling overwhelmed? Let’s talk about the ultimate shopping guide to curtains, all by type.
Curtains are categorized by length, style, hanging type, and purpose. The most common types of curtains include:
- Blackout Curtains
- Thermal Curtains
- Shower Curtains
- Door Panels
- Balloon Curtains
- Curtain Panels
- Window Tiers
- Window Scarves
- Lace Curtains
- Sheer Curtains
- Rod Pocket
- Tab-Top Curtains
- Wave Curtains
- Cabana Curtains
- Scalloped Curtains
- Beaded Curtains
- Stage Curtains
- Soundproofing Curtains
- Japanese Curtains
If you are worried about dealing with curtain shopping solo, I understand it. There’s a lot to unpack here. We’re going to talk about the most common types of curtains on the market.
Functional Types Of Curtains
For the sake of this article, we are not going to mention the basic standard lengths as a “type.” We’re going to focus on specialty types as well as unique styles that are frequently found on store shelves. Because there are so many different types that can intersect with one another, we’re not going to have too much of an order to this list. Okay?
1. Blackout Curtains
Blackout curtains are one of the most common types of functional curtains in the world. These are curtains that block out sunlight by at least 97 percent. They are most commonly used as a bedroom curtain, simply because most of us do not want the sun to beat through windows. They also offer a fair amount of privacy. So, there’s that perk, too.
If you’re sun-sensitive (like me), having blackout curtains is often a smart move. A lot of people also prefer having them when the sun in their homes can be a bit too much. For example, these are a good pick if you live in an area with a lot of snow, where the light can reflect off the snow and cause glare.
2. Thermal Curtains
Thermal curtains look almost identical to blackout curtains, and often act like them too. The difference is that thermal curtains contain a lining that traps heat in their material. As a result, they help increase the insulation level of your windows. At times, they can even help increase the temperature of your home by bolstering the insulation in a room.
Any time when you want a good level of insulation is a good time to use thermals. Living in a place like Alaska often means that you will need a pair of these, but don’t be fooled! Your thermal curtains can also be pretty helpful in hot areas, simply because they help prevent the heat from entering your interior.
3. Door Panels
Door panels are small curtains that are long enough to stretch from the top of a door to the bottom. They tend to be used (shocker!) to decorate glass doors. They’re great for offering a little bit of privacy while adding a European flair to their look. This is a must-have for French doors leading to the outdoors.
In many cases, door panels are not going to be sold as just a door panel. They often end up being sheer panels that double-duty as window panels. If you want to have door panels that are specifically going to be double-sided curtains that can be put through rods at the top and bottom of the door, you will need to specifically seek outdoor panels.
4. Shower Curtain
Shower curtains are pretty much what you expect them to be. They are curtains that are there to help prevent splashing and damage to your bathroom when you take a shower. Unlike most other types of curtains, shower curtains are waterproof. They also are not meant to last forever, since they tend to be mold-prone.
Shower curtains often come with a liner, or with a special coating that keeps them from molding up too quickly. Unlike most other curtains, you clean these off with a sponge and with a spray of vinegar.
5. Drape Panels
Drapes are a type of curtain that are mostly stylistic. They are not blackout curtains, since they tend to let in more light than blackout curtains are meant to do. These tend to be heavier curtains that help add a tinted light to your room while also offering up privacy. They’re often made of damask, woven textiles, or silk. Most patterned curtains in your home that go from ceiling to floor will be this type.
In a lot of cases, drapes actually can live up to their name. Depending on the specific definition you have, you might actually drape them over your rods. With that said, there are a lot of people who tend to use the terms for curtain panels and drapes interchangeably. It’s a regional thing, from what I think.
6. Balloon Curtains
Balloon curtains are curtains that are bunched up at the bottom so that they have a scalloped or otherwise curved bottom. In the past, these were classic “Old Hollywood” staples. Nowadays, they’re more common in homes that are meant to have a slightly “country” look or in neo-Victorian homes. Either way, it’s a little bit more old school than most people are going to have in their homes.
The picture above has a very slight ballooning action at the bottom of the curtains. It is possible to get much more pronounced looks to this style of curtain. So if the subtle isn’t your style, give a more extreme look a chance.
7. Curtain Panels
Technically, these can also be drapes or blackout curtains or other types. However, this is considered to be a different category simply because of the purpose that they are meant to provide. Curtain panels are meant to act as a frame or separator around windows, doorways, or similar stuff. Sometimes, they also frame shutters or blinds. They’re totally modern and chic!
There are two main ways to add panels to your home. The first is to use a single panel to cover a room’s area or window. The other is to use dual panels (one on each side) to make a “frame” for the window.
The best way to explain what a window tier is, is to think of a miniature window. That’s what window tiers are for. They are very common window treatments for smaller kitchen windows, usually the ones above the sink. In many cases, they may be tied at the center. Other times, they just hang loose. Either way, it’s considered to be a specialty type of curtain because of their petite size.
In many cases, window tiers are sold in sets—often a smaller pair of valances that are meant to cover the top and bottom parts of a kitchen window individually. The idea is that they are meant to cover up smaller windows or make a tiered covering of curtains.
9. Window Scarves
You know how a scarf has a tendency of draping over one’s neck, never quite being entirely twisted up? Window scarves are the same concept, just applied to windows. These tend to be used to add a little baroque accent to homes. Since they are meant to look classical and luxurious, they tend to be made of heavier materials. Learning to hang window scarves can be hard, but the payoff is huge!
Scarfs do not actually cover the majority of the window. They just frame the sides and the top. So, you will still need to have curtains covering the window part if you want to make sure that you have privacy while you do your thing. (Might we suggest some sheer panels? It’s a classic curtain combo.)
10. Valance Curtains
Valance curtains are not usually hung up on their own. Rather, they’re a part of a more classic-looking window treatment. Either way, they’re fairly recognizable. These are the curtains that are notoriously short (like two to three feet) and tend to be made of a light lace material. These also can be used to cover up unusually small windows, such as the one above.
Valance curtains are also often used as a part of a window tier set. However, they can also be found individually. It’s all about what you want to do and how you want to do it. The only thing that really stays stable about them is that they hang at the top of your curtain.
11. Lace Curtains
Lace curtains are one of the more popular choices for women who want to add a feminine touch to a bedroom, a bathroom, or even a beach cabana. Unlike most other types of “density-based” categories of curtains, lace is mostly known for having a specific pattern. I mean, it’s lace. So, it’s not going to have a solid pattern.
Lace curtains are excellent for people who want to have a little bit of light come in, but also want to add texture to their rooms. It’s a good way to add a classic touch, too. These tend to be most popular in bedrooms, powder rooms, and kitchens.
12. Sheer Curtains
Sheer curtains are the other major texture that’s seen an uptick in popularity lately. These are translucent curtains that have a slight pop of color to them or remain purely white. These are used to make a room look larger, add some privacy, and also soften up an area. Though they often appear feminine, sheer curtains can be the backbone to almost any room’s window treatments—including masculine room styles too.
If you take a look at almost every Instagram-worthy interior design shot, you’re probably going to see white sheer curtains. It’s a classic design staple. When you realize how versatile these curtains are, you will understand.
13. Rod Pocket
Rod pocket curtains are a category of curtain that is based on the way they’re hung up. With a rock pocket curtain, the fabric of the curtain gets sewn in a large tunnel-like loop. When you hang up the rod, you push the rod through the tunnel made of fabric. It’s a very stable way of hanging a curtain, but the ends of the curtain tend to get bunched up. If that’s your aesthetic, that’s fine. However, it’s not ideal in many cases.
Even so, most people who have these curtains love them. You can’t get an easier-to-install type of curtain, and if you’re handy with a sewing kit, you’ll find this to be the easiest type to make.
14. Grommet Curtains
If you want a very modern and streamlined type of curtain, then take a look at grommet curtains. These have holes sewn into the curtains that are secured with metal or plastic grommets. The curtain rod then goes through the grommets. This helps give your curtains a seamless and ruch-free look when hang them up. It’s pretty elegant and works very well with contemporary and coastal home designs.
Note: Most shower curtains are grommet style. This is because it’s way easier to hang them up and you also don’t have to deal with bunching that could potentially pull your shower curtain down.
15. Tab-Top Curtains
Tab-top curtains are the final type of hanging curtains that we’re going to talk about (as far as home interior curtains go). This style of curtains have looped tabs sewn at the top of the curtain. To hang them up, you simply push the curtain rod through the tabs. These are fairly common in contemporary homes, tropical homes, and rustic homes. (Actually, they’re fairly trendy right now!)
If you want to have a type of curtain that looks casual but still remains fairly straight-laced, then you’re going to want tab-top curtains. They’re cool like that and they never look like you’re trying too hard to be casual.
16. Wave Curtains
Wave curtains are more commonly seen in commercial hospitality settings like hotels and restaurants. These are curtains that are built to hide the fact that a curtain rod even exists. They have the hallmark of having heavy, bold waves up at the top rather than typical pinched pleats or ruches. The end result is something that helps lengthen the look of your floors to the ceiling.
Note: These are also sometimes called single pleat curtains. The idea is still the same: a wavy, continuous look that doesn’t pinch at the top. They can be installed through a wide variety of different means, so it’s hard to group them by an installation method.
Semi-opaque curtains are the type of curtains that can walk the fine line between sheer and blackout. These offer a more serious level of shade without causing you to have a total blackout. The end result is that you get a ton of privacy and a little bit of a glow from the sun hitting your curtains. That glow can help light up your room or even highlight a gorgeous pattern on your curtains.
Semi-opaque curtains are the hardest thing to purchase, simply because it can be difficult to figure out how they will look when the sun is coming through them. With that said, most semi-opaque curtains are going to be sold in a patterned style. They look great with a set of sheer curtains, as pictured above.
18. Cabana Curtains
Do you have an outdoor patio? Or a cabana by the beach? Then you may need cabana curtains. These are also called outdoor patio curtains. These are curtains that often wrap around the wooden support bars to near the edge of your cabana entrance or that get placed over the covering of your patio’s roofing area.
The idea is to give your home’s cabana a breezier, more elegant look. These curtains tend to be more mold and mildew-proof than others. If you are not sure whether or not your curtains are meant for this, keep an eye out for whether they’re marked for outdoor use. Ideally, you’ll stick to ones that are meant for outdoor use if you have a cabana.
19. Scalloped Curtains
Scalloped curtains can come in any size and opacity, but they all have one thing in common. The bottom of the curtains are cut in a circular shape. This is different from balloons since these actually involve a cut rather than a “pull” that gives the bottom edge a scalloped look. These curtains tend to add texture and vintage flair to any home that they are added to.
The important thing to remember when buying scalloped curtains is that you are going to have to be willing to search hard. While they can look cute as hell, scalloped curtains aren’t exactly popular. As a result, they are not going to be as common as standard panel curtains. If you have a very particular look in mind, you may have to get a little flexible to find what you are looking for.
20. Beaded Curtains
Once a trend that was almost entirely relegated to stoners and hippies, people are starting to fall for this groovy staple once more. Beaded curtains are unique among the types of curtains on this list, simply because of what they are made of. You can make your own beaded curtains, sure, but most people prefer to buy them.
Beaded curtains are (obviously) not meant to work as light shields. Rather, they tend to be used as room dividers in areas that would normally have doors. At times, they can also be used to help accent doors. Some beaded curtains also are thick enough to offer a little bit of soundproofing—though this is not something that you should count on if you’re looking for noise suppression.
21. Stage Curtains
If you’ve ever gone to a playhouse, then you may have noticed something about the curtains. Stage curtains are unlike anything you would find in a typical home. This isn’t just because of the size of the curtains, either. Stage curtains are way heavier and thicker than most other curtains are. This is primarily because it has two do two things: hide the actors and hide the noise backstage.
Stage curtains have a natural muffling ability that comes from the heavy material they’re made from. Since these curtains often end up being highlighted by the limelight, they also tend to be made from material that minimizes the appearance of dust. (Trust me, stages get dusty when you’re doing stage construction.)
22. Soundproofing Curtains
Speaking as a former library worker and a current wife of a musician, I can tell you that soundproofing curtains are an amazing invention. These curtains are a lifesaver for anyone who rents and has a music career. As you can probably figure out, these are opaque curtains that help reduce noise significantly. Most of the time, it’s because there are several layers of material in the curtains.
In most cases, you will be able to get at least a 20-decibel drop in noise from the right pair of curtains. That’s pretty epic. It’s worth noting that almost all (if not all) of this type of curtain also happen to double as blackout curtains. Unlike many other types of curtains, these aren’t always hung near the window. They can also be hung up on walls behind speakers or on doors as a way to make a room more soundproof.
23. Japanese Curtains
Japanese curtains are traditional curtains that initially found their start in Japan. They are usually sold in sets of two panels and are shorter and thinner than a typical curtain set would be. As the photo suggests, most homes in America do not have this type of curtain. Rather, they tend to be more common in restaurants or art spaces that appreciate an Eastern aesthetic. They’re used in both doorways and windows.
While it may be difficult to find Japanese curtains stateside, it’s not impossible. They’re actually starting to gain a following among homeowners and apartment renters because of the cool prints they have as well as the clean look they offer. If you’re looking for a simple room divider that is made of cloth, then you might like this option.
Note: If you are a fan of retrowave or lofi aesthetic like I am, you might want to check out music festival vendors for quality Japanese curtains with an EDM twist. Moreover, traditional Japanese vendors will always have a decent selection of elegantly-printed curtains with classic patterns.
To a point, I was iffy on whether or not I should include this as a type of curtain. However, I’ve seen these hung up on so many windows and doors that it’s impossible to ignore. Tapestries, or at least the new style of tapestries that are thin sheets with prints on them, have become a very specific type of curtain. These curtains are mostly collectible and are used to add a splash of color to both walls and windows.
This trend is really neat. Most of these curtains, though, don’t come in standard panels and may not actually have a mechanism included for hanging. You might have to sew or glue your own loops on the back of them if you want to use them as standard window curtains. With that said, these are often pinned to walls and ceilings, usually in smaller areas. If you’re about that #vanlife, these are practically mandatory.
What types of curtains are best for layering?
Sheer curtains, drape panels, blackout curtains, and semi-opaque curtain panels tend to be the most popular. However, there is no reason to stop there. You can also use curtain swags/scarves, valances, as well as accent ties to give your curtains a layered, elegant look. When in doubt, asking an interior designer for advice on layering your curtains is the best possible option.
What kind of curtains are trending in 2022?
2021 has seen a major influx of clean, simple single-color curtain panel designs. The most common styles of curtain that have gained traction this year include standard curtain panels, wave curtains, sheer curtains, and boldly patterned semi-opaque curtains.
If you want to get curtains that are trendy in color, then you should consider getting your curtains in neutrals. Beige, white, grey, and tan are all top choices this year. Meanwhile, pastels and deep colors have started to take a backseat to the trends.
Should living room curtains be long enough to touch the floor?
While it might change from room to room, the truth is that most living room curtains are best when they are able to touch or lightly graze the floor. Among interior designers, this is known as “kissing” the floor. If you choose to have them just above the floor, then you might notice that your room seems to be a bit smaller in appearance.
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Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.
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