Short Curtain Terminology Clarified

The terminology around short curtains can get confusing. What exactly are short curtains? How do they differ from regular floor-length curtains? And what are all these alternative names like cafe, tier, and sill-length referring to?

What Are Short Curtains?

Short curtains refer to any window curtain that does not reach all the way to the floor. These curtains are designed to hang just shy of the window sill, or anywhere from a few inches to a few feet above the floor.

what are short curtains called

The exact length depends on the style, but generally short curtains provide more light, an airier feel, and a better view compared to traditional long curtains. Their abbreviated length also allows better showcasing of details like a pretty window frame or sill.

Short Curtain vs Long Curtain

The main difference between a short and regular “long” curtain boils down to the length and how much of the window is covered.

Long curtains typically hang all the way from the rod near the top of the window opening down to just barely dusting the floor. Short curtains stop well above the floor – some only halfway down the window itself.

When to Choose Short Over Long

  • Smaller windows
  • Over sinks or stoves
  • To allow more light into a room
  • Showcase architectural details like a pretty window or sill

Short curtain styles also tend to have a more casual, whimsical aesthetic well-suited to certain decors over the more formal drapery of long curtains.

Alternative Names Explained

Beyond just “short” curtains, there are a number of different specific short curtain styles and alternative terminology to be aware of:


Sill-length curtains are designed specifically to graze right at the window sill itself – not falling below or above.


Window-length curtains hang just shy of the actual window sill, at the bottom window frame.


Cafe curtains have a casual, decorative look common for kitchens. Usually made of lightweight fabric either in solid colors or a checkered pattern.


Tier curtains are short curtains that utilize gathered tiers of fabric to create a soft, elegant look with billowy fullness.

And there are even more short curtain names and terminology to be aware of…

BreakfrontDesigned to fit around built-in furniture like buffets or cabinets
ClerestoryFit high windows located near the ceiling line of a room
French windowTailored for the unique shape and dimensions of French windows

Style Considerations

Short curtain styles range from casual to formal. Consider room decor when selecting both the style and fabric of your short curtains.

For tailored looks, choose fabrics like linen, cotton, or subtle patterns that complement your color scheme. Ruffled or tiered short curtains introduce a whimsical feel well-suited for shabby-chic styles.

Get creative with hanging short curtain panels offset from one another, utilizing decorative holdbacks for an asymmetrical look, or layering curtains over existing window treatments.

Pros and Cons of Short Curtains

Short curtains provide wonderful versatility and style over traditional long curtains, but may not be suitable for all spaces. Consider the advantages and disadvantages when deciding what’s best for your home.


  • Allow more natural light into a room
  • Create an airy, open feel
  • Showcase pretty window details often hidden by long curtains
  • Easier to open and close over sinks or stoves
  • Whimsical styles infuse rooms with character


  • Less privacy and light blocking capabilities
  • Not well suited for formal spaces or rooms needing a more polished look
  • Can look disproportionate on larger windows

You should now be able to choose the perfect curtain style. Measure your windows, consider the room’s existing decor, and don’t be afraid to get creative with hanging ideas.

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