Rather frequently, we are asked the difference between velvet and velour. On that note, I thought I’d offer an explanation.
Velvet usually refers to an apparel (lighter) weight fabric. It is a woven napped (cut pile) fabric that historically was made from silk, but today can be made from a variety of fibers, usually cotton or synthetic fibers (such as polyester or nylon). Some velvets are used for theatrical drapery, most notably Crushed Velvet. Apparel velvet is typically not flame retardant, but velvets intended for theatrical use often are treated for flame retardancy.
Theatrical velour (sometimes referred to as theatrical velvet), also a napped (cut pile) woven fabric, has a similar feel and appearance to velvet, but it is typically of a heavier weight, usually ranging from 16oz up to 32oz per linear yard. Cotton velour has been the standard in theatrical drapery for many years, but recently synthetic velours are being used more frequently, due to the inherent flame retardancy and greater durability of the synthetic fabric.
Knit velour, typically made from cotton, is often used in apparel (remember that velour lounging suit you had in the ’70s). At first glance, knit velour may appear similiar to velvet or theatrical velour, as it has a soft nap feel. However, it is actually quite different. As a knit fabric (rather than a woven fabric), it is soft but has a great deal of stretch, making it comfortable to wear but not generally appropriate for use in theatrical drapery.
As a side note, the word “velour” is originally a French word translating to “velvet” in English. No wonder it is confusing here in the U.S.!