Types of Valence Style Curtains & Drapes


Valances, which are also called window toppers, are curtains and drapes designed to minimally dress the top of a window, or--maximally--taper down along the sides of the window. Rather than offering privacy, valances add to a room’s decorative elements, conceal basic shades and blinds and bring a finishing touch to long curtains underneath.


  • Tapered valances come in a multitude of styles, but they all have the same basic characteristics: short fabric that runs along the length of the window and tapers down each side of it half-way to the windowsill. The look is inherently traditional and tailored, but can be made less-so by informal fabric choices. The most common tapered valance is constructed by pinching sections of fabric together into pleats. The resulting look is a fabric that hangs with soft ripples across the top and down the sides. As similar look is the pocket tapered valance, which uses double the fabric of a pleated valance to achieve a fuller look. A rod is inserted into a pocket sewn into the top of the curtain, and the fabric is tightly gathered into place. A more modern tapered valance is the box-pleat taper. Box pleats incorporate a single inverted pleat so the fabric lays flat. Its taper angles on a straight line, rather than curving softly.


  • Swags are one of the more versatile window toppers, ranging from a piece of fabric artfully entwined with a curtain rod, to custom made sections of fabrics draped and overlaid on one another. What classifies a swag as a valance is that it’s about form over function--swags decorate the window frame rather than provide privacy. A swag can easily extend to the floor along the sides of the window simply by using a long enough piece of fabric. What’s more, the longer the fabric, the more it can be draped and overlapped across the rod. They’re often used on larger windows that require more draping, resulting in a more dramatic look. Traditional-style swags are often finished with pom-pom trim or tassels. Standard-sized window swags have five parts: the center curve flanked by two smaller curves and two jabots, or the fabric that hangs along the sides of the window. Because the curtain rod is partially exposed, it’s part of the overall look.


  • Pleated valances are one of the most often used window toppers in decorating. They’re traditional and come in a wide variety of styles, including the pleated taper valance. Other pleated valances include pleated balloon valances, single pinch-pleat valances and box-pleat valances. Box-pleat valances are the most modern of the three, characterized by straight, tailored lines from edge to edge. Because box pleats are inverted, the front of the drape is flat and the pleat sits behind the fabric, showing only a slit on the facing side. Single-pinch pleat valances have a series of pleats sewn across the top. The pleats fall open along the drape and look like soft ripples. Single-pinch pleats are sewn about an inch apart, resulting in a full-looking valance. Pleated balloon valances have minimal pleating along the top of the drape. A standard-size window may have three to five pleats. Rather than falling straight or in ripples, the fabric balloons out between the pleats.

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  • “Complete Book of Window Treatments and Curtains”; Carol Parks; 1994
  • “Tauton Home Window Treatment Idea Book”; Sue Sampson and Ellen DeLucia; 2006
  • Photo Credit detail of curtain image by Tomo Jesenicnik from Fotolia.com
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