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Dress for success for windows

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Interior design portfolios are filled with window dressings, window coverings, window treatments, window fashions, it makes no difference what you call them for an interior to be successful the windows must be dressed appropriately. But what constitutes "appropriate"? This means different things to different people and situation can play a part in this as well.

Why do we NEED to dress windows?

Windows primarily are dressed truly for only two NEEDS. Keep in mind that a need is not the same thing as a want. A need is a necessity, and as much as it pains me as an interior designer to say so, dressing your windows to make them look prettier is not a NEED. So what are the two needs for why windows began being dressed in the first place and which both continue today to still be relevant needs for dressing a window?

  • To keep the outdoors outside. That is, that big heavy drape on windows can restrict drafts from coming into a home, as well as keep out sunlight so that we can sleep. This also has the bonus of assuring that upholstery fabrics and carpets do not fade from sunlight streaming through windows.
  • For privacy and security, to keep peering eyes from watching us, attending to when we may or may not be home, and to keep them from eyeing our "stuff".

When interior design portfolios show heavily dressed windows, the first need above is often the reason.

What if weather and/or privacy are not factors for us?

But what if we love the sunshine, have no concerns over it fading our interiors, or waking us? What if our windows either aren't drafty, or we are unperturbed by the drafts? What if we either have no neighbors who can see in; or we are simply easy-going and not concerned if people see us or our interiors or our "stuff"? Need we dress our windows? No. There is then no need to. There is no rule in interior design that says that windows must be dressed. Interior design portfolios are filled with "undressed" windows. It may be illegal for us to traipse about undressed but so far no one has made it illegal for windows to remain undressed at all times.

This is wonderful that there is no such law, because interior design is about self-expression. If you want your windows undressed, leave them undressed. Certainly you are in good company as interior design portfolios prove.

But what if you either need your windows dressed because you do wish to keep the outdoors outside, or you value your privacy? Or what if you just want to dress your windows? Well, then you should dress your windows! But how? Read on and I'll explain...

Why is it called window "dressing"?

Covering windows is akin to covering people in clothes. In fact it is so similar that that is how the term window dressing originated.

Think about it this way, if you are attending a formal wedding, you would not wear a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Think of your windows and your interiors in exactly the same way you would your wardrobe and soon your windows will look like windows you've seen in interior design portfolios.

Tailored window dressings

When you wear clothes that are more tailored, meaning they have more details, then you are dressed more formally than someone wearing fewer details in their clothing. A good example here is to compare a button-down shirt with a T-shirt that simply slips over your head. Obviously the button-down shirt is more formal.

Interior design portfolios often show drapes that have been tailored specifically for a window, that fit it exactly, that have folds sewn into them to make them hang precisely, pulls made just for them, just to open and close them, such as buttons might on a suit coat. These are more formal than would be curtains which are simply threaded on a rod and pulled open by hand and can be compared to a jacket with no buttons. A fabric swag draped over a rod that therefore cannot be opened or closed might be similar to a shawl thrown over the shoulders, and then of course stapling sheets up directly onto the window frame is even more casual (not suggested, but definitely more casual) than any of these simply because it requires no rod at all.

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Layered window dressings

When you wear fewer layers of clothing you are dressed more casually than when you wear more layers. For example, a man's suit may have pants and a suit coat and it is customary to wear it with a button-down shirt, a tie, shoes, and socks.

But if we add a tie that is more layered such as a bow tie, a shirt that is pleated (more layered) if we add stays in the collar, and a cummerbund or a vest, this is more formal fashion than a standard suit and tie, and of course we all know this as a tuxedo.

It is the same with your windows. Interior design portfolios everywhere demonstrate that the more layers you place on them, the more formal they will make your room look.

So additional layers for curtains or drapes might be sheers underneath, shades, shutters, or blinds underneath, and for a very formal look, you may wish to use sheer curtains, then non-sheer curtains over those, and then formal drapes on top of both. You can find examples in popular interior design portfolios everywhere.

Hats for windows: Valances, Swags, and Cornices

Another layer that people sometimes place in their fashion wardrobe is a hat. Hats can be formal, tailored, or more casual but history tells us that the person wearing a hat is generally speaking more dressed up than the person not wearing a hat; this is simply because they are more "fashioned".

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Consider these two examples:

  • a woman walking down a beach wearing a one-piece suit and carrying a towel
  • a woman walking down a beach wearing a one-piece suit, carrying a towel and wearing a sun hat with a large brim

Which is dressed more formally and which is dressed more casually? Generally speaking the woman wearing the hat would be considered more formal, even though neither is by definition "formal" if you had to choose which one is more "dressed up", all other things being equal, you would usually choose the one with the hat.

It is the same with windows. Hats can be casual or more formal compared with each other but almost all hats are more "dressed up" than none.

Most valances are less formal than most swags and cornices generally speaking, but adding the caveats above of layering and tailoring makes all the difference here.

Adding swags over drapes as can be seen in many interior design portfolios is more formal than a swag alone; and a swag with fringe is more formal still because it is more tailored in that it has more details compared to a swag with no fringe.

Luxurious fabrics feel more formal

Here again, just like in clothing, the sheen, feel, and weave of a fabric can make a huge difference in how "formal" a window is dressed.

Even though two men may both have chosen to wear each pants, and a shirt, one of the clues that most of us would "read" to determine which was more dressed up would be the quality or weave of the fabrics and how we imagine the fabrics "feel".

Let's suppose one is wearing a tightly woven soft cotton slack and the second man cotton pants with a looser weave, widely identified as "jeans", the first man is wearing a silk shirt that has a slight sheen to it and the second man a cotton shirt with no sheen. Most of us would easily determine that the first man is dressed more formally, even though neither may be dressed formally by definition.

Interior design portfolios confirm the same is true with windows.

Fabrics that feel soft or smooth or heavy to the hand are generally going to seem more luxurious and therefore more formal than fabrics that feel rough or sticky and simply cover the window and just hang there. Fabrics that sway gently as you walk near appear soft and luxurious while fabrics that are heavy luxuriously tumble from the tops of windows like a ball gown drapes a woman's figure.

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I feel that here I must mention for those of you that may be looking to me for advice on window dressings and who cannot afford a professional interior designer, that although silk is a luxurious fabric common in interior design portfolios as a drapery for windows and it drapes beautifully and sways gently as you walk by, it also degrades quickly in sunshine and so unless you have the money to replace your beautiful and expensive silk drapery every few years, settle instead for polyester which was invented solely to mimic silk and usually does a pretty good job of it. While polyester may be shunned in clothing because as a synthetic fiber it may cause people to perspire your windows don't have to have natural fabrics that breathe so polyester may be a good substitution for silk in your situation.

Jewelry for windows

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Just as all successful wardrobes have accessories; knowing how and when to accessorize your windows can turn a good window dressing into a great one.

Although accessorizing is almost always done with clothing even when people are dressed informally, windows generally speaking shouldn't be accessorized unless a more formal look is desired. Some accessories for windows are more formal than others but windows do not require accessorizing unless at least a semi-formal look is desired.

Some accessories commonly seen in interior design portfolios that you may wish to consider for windows include tassels, cords, braiding, fringe, beads, rope, sconces, highly decorative rods, headings, crowns, bows, knots, rosettes and many other types of accessories.

Sportswear for windows: separates

Just as in fashion when blouses and skirts, or slacks and shirts are mixed and matched are considered sportswear, so it is also true with windows that "separates" for windows if I may use that term, would be considered more casual.

We have all seen windows, in interior design portfolios and in movies or shows from the 1960's or earlier especially in kitchens, that have a valance rod-pocket on the top of the window, then nothing at all covering the midsection of the window and then a café curtain covering the lower half of the window. Although these may have matching fabrics on both the valance and the café curtain, this is in effect sportswear for windows in that the two pieces are separated from each other and so do not appear to be a formal ensemble.

This effect can be achieved with shutters as well.

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Blinds, shades, and shutters

Blinds, shades and shutters are a favorite lately in interior design portfolios which tend to present a more casual appearance than do draperies, curtains, valances, cornices, and swags. They can definitely be combined with any of the fashions mentioned earlier but tend to make the overall look more casual than it would be with say a sheer curtain underneath a drapery. Just as today we commonly combine casual and dressier clothing pieces together to exude our own sense of style, this type of dressing is still more casual than using all dressier clothing pieces together.

And, shutters, shades and blinds made with or incorporating fabric are generally speaking more formal than wood or blinds, shades or shutters made from other hard materials.

Masculine vs. feminine

For men who are looking for luxurious fashions for their windows but want something that appears more masculine, choose a general shape for the window that is more geometric such as a box cornice then drapes on each side that hang straight down as opposed to being tied back as a dress might have ruching. Then if more layering is desired for a more formal look, popular interior design portfolios show that underneath it all we might want to try a shade that has simple straight lines or even shutters made of wood or straight hanging curtains made of a light fabric or even a sheer fabric.

Choose solids or masculine patterns such as plaids, geometrics, or paisleys. Just as a man wouldn't usually wear floral patterns neither should his windows usually.

Modern vs. Traditional

Just as styles of dressing have become more casual throughout history leading to today's relaxed styles, so window dressings in interior design portfolios everywhere demonstrate that windows in modern interiors are generally more casually dressed than traditional window fashions.

So what have we learned?

  • Tailoring is more formal and the more tailored the dressing on a window, the more formal.
  • Layering is more formal and the more layering on a window, the more formal.
  • Luxurious fabric window dressings are more formal, the more luxurious the more formal.
  • Hats are for more dressy occasions, generally speaking than no hats, and valances, swags and cornices can be considered hats for windows.
  • Accessorizing your windows is a way to add formality to your windows appearance and the more accessories, the more formal they appear.

In addition, combining elements of these, tailoring, layering, luxury, headwear, and accessories adds formality, the more we combine, the more formal the window fashion looks. Examples of this can be found in interior design portfolios everywhere.

Conversely, any of the above generalizations can be reversed to provide a room a more relaxed atmosphere, the most relaxed of all is no window dressing of any kind because there is no law that says that windows must be "dressed".

If you need a professional fashion consultant for your windows, and you are in St. Louis, contact me at [email protected]