1950s style curtains

Updated March 16, 2017

Mid-century design is increasingly common today and ranges from architecture to home accents, including window treatments. Curtain styles of the 1950s are used in many modern "retro" homes in one way or another -- form, colour or pattern, for instance. The key to integrating a 1950s curtain style into today's home is understanding the fundamentals of the original.


Textile innovations just prior to and during the post-war 1950s brought an array of fabric, pattern and colour choices to window treatments. People were in a celebratory mood with the troops back home and manufacturers turned their attention from defence back to the homefront, providing new home products, including window treatments. The colours were predominantly vibrant or pastel; the patterns were bold and often geometric; and the fabrics ranged from sheer to heavy bark cloth.

Cafe Curtains

Cafe curtains were predominantly used in 1950s kitchens and bathrooms and are also known as tier curtains because they hung at two different levels of each window. The top tier was shorter (like a valance), and the bottom tier was usually longer and began around the middle of the window and ended at the bottom of or just below the window frame. Generally, each tier had two panels (though the top one was sometimes a single), and there was a space between the top and bottom tiers, allowing for sunlight even when the panels were closed. Popular cafe curtain fabrics were cotton (sometimes sheer) and bark cloth, and the colours ranged from vibrant red to pastel pink, depending on the colours of the room. In kitchens, bold and vibrant fruit patterns or coloured trim were common.

Priscilla Curtains

Often used in 1950s kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms, Priscilla curtains gave a light and airy feeling to the room due to their characteristic ruffled edges and white or off-white sheer or semi-sheer fabric. However, more opaque priscilla curtains and colours (usually pastel), as well as patterns (usually floral) were not uncommon. With two panels per window, priscilla curtains were hung on double rods at the top of a window so that one panel overlapped the other at the top while each was tied back at the side of the window, usually three-quarters to the bottom of the frame. A third rod was sometimes used to accommodate a ruffled valance on top of the two overlapping panels.

Pinch-Pleated Drapes

Pinch-pleated drapes were traditionally found in 1950s living and dining rooms, as well as bedrooms, especially the master. Though predominantly floor-to-ceiling length, they were also sometimes cut to just below a window frame, especially in bedrooms. Made of opaque fabric panels that were "pinched" at the top so they fell in vertical pleats (though usually not pressed), the classic 1950s drapes provided the most privacy and blocked out the most sunlight of any other 1950s-style curtain. In contrast to the heavy panel fabric, sheer panels were sometimes used under the drapes to provide some privacy and sunlight filtering when the drapes were open. Of all the 1950s curtain styles, drapes were most likely to have a vibrant solid colour or pattern, especially the "boomerang" which consisted of intersecting geometric shapes in complementary colours. A valance in the same drapery fabric, or of painted wood, was often used to hide the curtain rods and add a design element to the room.

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About the Author

Amie Martin has more than 20 years of publishing experience in proofreading, editing, writing, design and layout. She writes for various websites, specializing in branding, marketing and technical communications. Martin has an Associate of Applied Science in merchandising from Bay State College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.