What is a Pillow Sham? Unraveling the Bedding Mystery

What is a Pillow Sham

Are you puzzled by the term “pillow sham” or find yourself questioning its purpose in the realm of bedding accessories? You’re not alone. The world of linens can be a confusing one, especially when it comes to distinguishing between items like pillow shams and pillowcases. In this article, we unravel the mystery behind pillow shams, providing a concise definition and delving into their fascinating history.

As we navigate through the importance of pillow shams, draw comparisons with pillowcases, and explore the various types and sizes available, you’ll discover that these decorative bedding elements offer more than meets the eye. Whether you’re a bedding novice or a seasoned home decor enthusiast, join us on a journey to understand the nuances of pillow shams, learn how to choose the right ones, and explore creative ways to enhance your bedroom aesthetic. By the end, you’ll not only grasp the essentials of what a pillow sham is but also be inspired to elevate your bedding style. Let’s dive into the world of pillow shams and unlock the secrets to transforming your bedroom decor.

Importance of Pillow Shams

Pillow shams are not merely decorative accents in the realm of bedding; they serve a crucial role in elevating both the aesthetics and functionality of your sleep space. Understanding the importance of pillow shams goes beyond considering them as mere accessories; it involves recognizing the impact they can have on the overall look and feel of your bedroom. Here are four compelling reasons why pillow shams are an essential addition to your bedding ensemble:

Enhanced Aesthetics:

Pillow shams effortlessly introduce a layer of sophistication and style to your bed. With their decorative patterns, textures, and designs, shams become focal points that tie together the various elements of your bedding. Whether you prefer a classic, modern, or eclectic look, the right pillow shams can instantly transform the ambiance of your bedroom.

Coordination and Cohesion:

Coordinating your shams with your bedding or room decor helps create a cohesive and polished appearance. Matching or complementary shams contribute to a well-put-together bed, providing a sense of order and harmony. This attention to detail adds a touch of luxury and completeness to your bedroom design.

Versatility in Styling:

Unlike standard pillowcases, shams offer a broader canvas for creativity. They come in various shapes, sizes, and designs, allowing you to experiment with different styling options. Whether you prefer stand-out shams, pattern mixing, or a symmetrical arrangement, pillow shams provide a versatile platform to showcase your personal style and flair.

Functional Support:

  • Beyond their decorative role, pillow shams also serve a functional purpose. Acting as protective covers for your sleeping pillows, shams help shield them from dust, dirt, and potential stains. This not only prolongs the life of your pillows but also ensures a clean and hygienic sleeping environment.

Understanding the multifaceted importance of pillow shams empowers you to make informed choices when selecting bedding accessories. As we delve deeper into the distinctions between pillow shams and pillowcases, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of how these elements contribute to the overall aesthetic and functionality of your bedroom.

Differentiating Sham and Pillowcase

In the pursuit of a well-dressed bed, it’s crucial to discern the differences between pillow shams and pillowcases. While both serve the fundamental purpose of covering and protecting pillows, they diverge in design, functionality, and placement within your bedding ensemble. Let’s break down the distinctions between a sham and a pillowcase:

Construction and Design:

  • Pillow Shams:
    • Typically feature elaborate patterns, decorative stitching, or unique fabrics.
    • Often come in square or rectangular shapes.
    • May include additional embellishments like flanges, fringes, or tailored edges.
  • Pillowcases:
    • Generally have a simpler design with a focus on practicality.
    • Commonly come in rectangular shapes to accommodate standard sleeping pillows.
    • Minimal embellishments, focusing on providing a clean and functional covering.

Purpose and Placement:

  • Pillow Shams:
    • Primarily decorative, placed at the head of the bed.
    • Usually removed before bedtime, as they are not meant for sleeping on.
    • Serve to enhance the overall aesthetic and coordination of the bedding.
  • Pillowcases:
    • Practical and functional, directly in contact with sleeping pillows.
    • Designed for regular use during sleep, providing a comfortable and clean surface.
    • Often changed and laundered more frequently than shams.

Size and Shape:

  • Pillow Shams:
    • Come in various sizes, including standard, king, and Euro shams.
    • Shapes can vary from square to rectangular, depending on the intended placement.
  • Pillowcases:
    • Generally rectangular and designed to fit standard or queen-sized pillows.
    • Dimensions are standardized to accommodate sleeping pillows.

Understanding these key differences allows you to make informed decisions when styling your bed. While pillow shams contribute to the overall aesthetic and can be switched out for decorative purposes, pillowcases are practical essentials designed for nightly use. The combination of both ensures a well-balanced and functional bedding arrangement that meets both your decorative and comfort needs. As we explore further, you’ll discover how to choose the right sham pillow and maximize their impact on your bedroom decor.

Choosing the Right Sham Pillow

Choosing the Right Sham Pillow

Selecting the right sham pillow involves considering various factors, from the overall aesthetic you desire to the practical aspects of care and maintenance. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the process:

Material Matters:

  • Fabric Choice:
    • Consider the material of the sham in relation to your bedding ensemble. Common materials include cotton, linen, silk, or blends. Each material has its unique texture and appearance, contributing differently to the overall look of your bed.
  • Comfort and Maintenance:
    • If comfort is a priority, opt for materials that feel soft against the skin. Additionally, consider the ease of maintenance; some fabrics may require special care, while others are machine washable.

Design and Style:

  • Coordinating with Bedding:
    • Choose a sham design that complements your existing bedding or overall bedroom theme. Whether you prefer a minimalist look or bold patterns, the sham should enhance the visual appeal of your bed.
  • Embellishments:
    • Explore shams with added embellishments like flanges, ruffles, or embroidery for a touch of sophistication. However, ensure that these details align with the overall style of your bedroom.

Size Considerations:

  • Matching Pillow Sizes:
    • Select shams that correspond to the size of your sleeping pillows. Common sizes include standard, king, and Euro shams. Proper sizing ensures a neat and tailored appearance.
  • Layering Effect:
    • Experiment with layering different-sized shams to create depth and visual interest. This adds a dynamic element to your bed and allows for creative styling.

Care and Durability:

  • Cleaning Guidelines:
    • Check the care instructions for the sham material. Some may be machine washable, while others require delicate care. Choose a sham that aligns with your preferred level of maintenance.
  • Durability:
    • Invest in high-quality shams for long-term use. Durable materials and well-constructed seams contribute to a sham’s longevity, ensuring that it withstands regular use and washing.

Personal Style Expression:

  • Experimenting with Patterns:
    • If you enjoy mixing patterns, shams provide an excellent opportunity for creative expression. Mix and match patterns with your existing bedding or introduce a statement piece with your shams.
  • Color Palette:
    • Consider the color palette of your bedroom and choose shams that either complement or contrast with the existing hues. This allows you to create a cohesive and visually appealing bed.

By carefully considering these factors, you’ll be equipped to choose sham pillows that not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of your bedroom but also align with your preferences for comfort and maintenance. As we delve into the realm of Euro pillow shams and creative styling ideas, you’ll discover the versatility of these bedding accessories in transforming your sleep space.

Pillow Types for Shams

Pillow Types for Shams

The success of your pillow sham’s aesthetic appeal and functionality relies heavily on the type of pillow you choose to insert. Different pillow types can enhance or detract from the overall look, feel, and comfort of your bedding ensemble. Here’s a guide to help you pick the right pillow for your shams:

Standard Sleeping Pillows:

  • Dimensions:
    • Standard sleeping pillows usually measure 20 inches by 26 inches.
  • Suitability:
    • Ideal for standard shams that match the size of standard sleeping pillows.
  • Considerations:
    • Ensure the pillow fills the sham adequately for a plump and polished appearance.

King Size Pillows:

  • Dimensions:
    • Larger than standard, king-size pillows typically measure 20 inches by 36 inches.
  • Suitability:
    • Perfect for king-size shams or for a luxurious layered look with standard shams.
  • Considerations:
    • Opt for quality king-size pillows to maintain a full and supportive appearance in the shams.

Euro Pillows:

  • Dimensions:
    • Square-shaped, with common sizes being 26 inches by 26 inches or 28 inches by 28 inches.
  • Suitability:
    • Specifically designed for Euro shams, adding a distinctive and decorative element.
  • Considerations:
    • Invest in plump Euro pillows to achieve a well-filled and square-shaped look in Euro shams.

Decorative Pillows:

  • Variety of Shapes:
    • Bolster pillows, round pillows, or lumbar pillows add diversity to your sham arrangements.
  • Suitability:
    • Introduce these pillows for added visual interest and texture.
  • Considerations:
    • Play with shapes and sizes to create a visually appealing and dynamic bed display.

Body Pillows:

  • Dimensions:
    • Long and rectangular, providing full-body support.
  • Suitability:
    • Ideal for body pillow shams or as a decorative element in large bedding ensembles.
  • Considerations:
    • Choose body pillows that maintain their shape to ensure a neat and attractive appearance in shams.

When selecting pillows for your shams, aim for a balance between visual appeal and comfort. The right combination of pillow types and sizes contributes to a well-coordinated and inviting bed. As we explore Euro pillow shams in more detail and delve into creative styling ideas, you’ll discover the endless possibilities for elevating your bedroom decor with the perfect pillow and sham combination.

Euro Pillow Shams

Euro Pillow Shams

Euro pillow shams, also known as European shams, bring a touch of continental flair to your bedding ensemble. These square-shaped shams, typically measuring 26 inches by 26 inches or 28 inches by 28 inches, offer a distinctive and decorative element to your bed. Here’s a comprehensive exploration of Euro pillow shams:

Design and Versatility:

  • Euro shams often feature intricate patterns, textured fabrics, or unique designs that add a layer of sophistication to your bed.
  • Due to their larger size and square shape, Euro shams provide a versatile canvas for showcasing bold patterns or complementary colors.

Placement and Arrangement:

  • Euro shams are commonly placed at the back of the bed, propped up against the headboard or wall for added support and visual appeal.
  • They serve as a backdrop for other decorative and sleeping pillows, creating a well-layered and aesthetically pleasing arrangement.

Pillow Insert Considerations:

  • Euro pillows, the inserts for Euro shams, should be plump and well-filled to achieve a luxurious and full appearance.
  • Opt for high-quality Euro pillow inserts to maintain the shape and structure of the shams.

Coordination with Bedding:

  • Euro shams can either coordinate with the rest of your bedding or serve as a focal point with contrasting patterns or textures.
  • Consider the overall color scheme and design of your bedroom to ensure Euro shams seamlessly integrate into the aesthetic.

Creative Styling Ideas:

  • Mix and match Euro shams with standard shams and accent pillows to create a dynamic and visually interesting bed arrangement.
  • Experiment with layering by introducing different textures, such as combining smooth Euro shams with textured accent pillows.

Practicality and Maintenance:

  • While Euro shams primarily serve a decorative purpose, they can also provide additional support when sitting up in bed.
  • Check the care instructions for your Euro shams, as some may have unique fabric or embellishments that require special attention.

Incorporating Euro pillow shams into your bedding ensemble allows you to infuse a touch of elegance and personality into your bedroom. As we continue our exploration of creative styling ideas, including stand-out shams, pattern mixing, and symmetrical arrangements, you’ll discover how Euro shams can be a key element in transforming your bed into a stylish and inviting focal point of your bedroom decor.

Creative Pillow Sham Ideas

Elevating the style of your bed goes beyond selecting the right pillow shams; it involves creative and thoughtful styling. Whether you prefer a classic, modern, or eclectic look, experimenting with different pillow sham ideas allows you to infuse personality and visual interest into your bedroom. Here are some creative pillow sham ideas to inspire your bedding ensemble:

Stand-out Shams:

  • Choose one or two shams with bold patterns, vibrant colors, or unique textures to serve as stand-out pieces.
  • Place these shams strategically to draw attention and create a focal point within your bed.

Matchy Shams:

  • Opt for a cohesive look by selecting shams that match the color or pattern of your duvet cover or comforter.
  • This creates a harmonious and polished appearance, emphasizing coordination in your bedding ensemble.

Two Sets of Shams:

  • Introduce depth and dimension by using two sets of shams with varying sizes or designs.
  • Layering standard shams in front of Euro shams, for example, adds visual interest and complexity to your bed.

Pattern Mixing:

  • Embrace creativity by mixing different patterns and textures among your shams.
  • Stripes, florals, and geometric patterns can coexist harmoniously when the color palette is coordinated.

Euro Shams:

  • Make Euro shams a focal point by selecting bold or textured designs.
  • Experiment with arranging them at the back of the bed to create a luxurious backdrop for other pillows.

Symmetrical Shams:

  • Achieve a classic and balanced look by placing identical shams on either side of the bed.
  • This creates a sense of symmetry and order, contributing to a polished and well-designed appearance.

Mismatched Shams:

  • Embrace an eclectic and bohemian vibe by intentionally choosing shams that don’t perfectly match.
  • This adds a touch of personality and a relaxed, curated feel to your bedding.

Shams With a Throw Pillow:

  • Introduce a throw pillow that complements the color or design of your shams.
  • This additional layer adds texture and visual appeal, breaking up the uniformity of the sham arrangement.

Placement Matters:

  • Experiment with different arrangements and placements of your shams.
  • Consider angling them or overlapping for a more dynamic and inviting look.

These creative pillow sham ideas provide a starting point for personalizing your bedding ensemble. Mix and match, experiment with textures and patterns, and let your personal style shine through. As we move forward to explore the distinctions between pillowcases and pillow shams, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how these creative ideas can enhance your overall bedroom decor.

Shams vs. Pillowcases: What’s the Difference?

While both shams and pillowcases serve the purpose of covering and protecting pillows, they differ significantly in design, function, and placement within your bedding. Understanding these distinctions allows you to make informed choices based on both aesthetic and practical considerations:

Design and Embellishments:

  • Shams:
    • Shams are designed with a focus on aesthetics, often featuring decorative patterns, textures, and embellishments like flanges, fringes, or tailored edges.
    • The intention is to enhance the overall visual appeal of your bed, and they are commonly placed as decorative elements rather than for sleeping.
  • Pillowcases:
    • Pillowcases prioritize simplicity and practicality, with minimal design elements.
    • Their primary function is to provide a clean and comfortable surface for sleeping, and they are usually plain or have a straightforward design.


  • Shams:
    • Shams are typically placed at the head of the bed as decorative accents.
    • They serve as a backdrop for other sleeping pillows and are often removed before bedtime.
  • Pillowcases:
    • Pillowcases are placed directly on sleeping pillows, forming the layer that comes in direct contact with the face during sleep.
    • They are an essential part of the bedding that contributes to comfort and hygiene during the night.

Size and Shape:

  • Shams:
    • Come in various sizes, including standard, king, and Euro shams, with shapes varying from square to rectangular.
    • The size and shape of shams are chosen based on the intended placement and the overall design scheme.
  • Pillowcases:
    • Pillowcases are generally rectangular and tailored to fit standard or queen-sized sleeping pillows.
    • Their dimensions are standardized for practicality and ease of use.


  • Shams:
    • While shams do offer a degree of protection for sleeping pillows, their primary function is decorative.
    • Shams are often removed before bedtime to maintain the pristine appearance of the bed.
  • Pillowcases:
    • Pillowcases are designed for regular use during sleep, providing a barrier between the sleeper and the pillow.
    • They are easily washable and changed more frequently than shams for hygiene purposes.

Understanding the differences between shams and pillowcases enables you to make intentional choices based on your specific needs and preferences. As we delve into the types of pillow shams and explore their sizes, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of how these bedding elements can work together to create a harmonious and functional sleep space.

Pillow Sham Sizes

Choosing the right size for your pillow shams is essential to achieving a well-balanced and visually appealing bed arrangement. The size of your shams should align with the dimensions of your sleeping pillows and the overall design scheme of your bedding ensemble. Here’s a guide to understanding common pillow sham sizes and their applications:

Standard Shams:

  • Dimensions:
    • Standard shams typically measure 20 inches by 26 inches.
  • Suitability:
    • Ideal for standard sleeping pillows, they offer a classic and versatile choice for most bed sizes.
    • Commonly used as decorative elements on twin and full-sized beds.

King Shams:

  • Dimensions:
    • King shams are larger, measuring 20 inches by 36 inches.
  • Suitability:
    • Designed for king-sized beds, they accommodate the larger dimensions of king sleeping pillows.
    • Offer an elegant and tailored appearance on larger beds.

Euro Shams:

  • Dimensions:
    • Square-shaped, Euro shams come in various sizes, such as 26 inches by 26 inches or 28 inches by 28 inches.
  • Suitability:
    • Specifically crafted for Euro pillows, these shams add a decorative and luxurious element to the bed.
    • Commonly used as backdrops for other pillows on the bed.

Quilted Shams:

  • Dimensions:
    • Quilted shams can come in standard or king sizes, featuring additional padding and stitching for a textured appearance.
  • Suitability:
    • Ideal for adding an extra layer of comfort and visual interest to your bedding ensemble.
    • Choose sizes based on the dimensions of your sleeping pillows.

Flanged Pillow Shams:

  • Dimensions:
    • Flanged shams have an added fabric border, or flange, around the edges, providing a tailored and decorative finish.
  • Suitability:
    • Offer a polished and sophisticated look, suitable for various bed sizes.
    • The flange adds a touch of elegance to the overall bed presentation.

When selecting pillow sham sizes, consider the size of your bed, the dimensions of your sleeping pillows, and the overall design aesthetic you want to achieve. Mixing different sizes, such as layering standard shams in front of king shams, adds depth and visual interest. As we move forward to explore pillow care tips and frequently asked questions, you’ll gain valuable insights into maintaining the longevity and appearance of your chosen pillow shams.

Pillow Care Tips

Maintaining the pristine appearance and longevity of your pillow shams requires proper care and attention. Different materials and designs may have specific cleaning requirements, and understanding these guidelines ensures that your shams remain in top-notch condition. Here are essential pillow care tips to keep your shams looking fresh and inviting:

Follow Manufacturer’s Care Instructions:
  • Always check and adhere to the care instructions provided by the manufacturer. Different fabrics and embellishments may have specific washing and drying requirements.
Regular Washing Routine:
  • Establish a regular washing routine for your pillow shams, especially if they come in direct contact with the skin during sleep.
  • Pillow shams used primarily for decorative purposes may require less frequent washing.
Zippered or Buttoned Shams:
  • If your shams have zippers or buttons, ensure they are securely fastened before placing them in the washing machine. This prevents potential damage during the wash.
Machine Washing vs. Hand Washing:
  • Check the care instructions to determine whether machine washing or hand washing is recommended.
  • Some delicate fabrics or intricate designs may benefit from gentle hand washing to preserve their quality.
Gentle Detergents:
  • Use a mild and gentle detergent to protect the fabric and any embellishments on the shams.
  • Avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals, as they can damage colors and fabrics.
Avoid Overloading the Washing Machine:
  • Overloading the washing machine can lead to inadequate cleaning and may cause damage to the shams.
  • Follow the recommended load capacity to ensure thorough washing.
Drying Guidelines:
  • Check whether your shams can be machine dried or if air-drying is recommended.
  • If machine drying, use a low heat setting to prevent shrinkage or damage.
Ironing and Steaming:
  • If necessary, iron or steam your shams to remove wrinkles and maintain a crisp appearance.
  • Follow temperature guidelines based on the fabric to avoid damage.
Storage Considerations:
  • Store your shams in a cool, dry place when not in use.
  • Avoid exposing them to direct sunlight for extended periods to prevent color fading.
Spot Cleaning:
  • For localized stains, consider spot cleaning instead of washing the entire sham. Use a gentle cleaner and a soft cloth to avoid damaging the fabric.

By incorporating these pillow care tips into your routine, you can extend the life of your shams and keep them looking as good as new. As we delve into frequently asked questions about pillow shams, you’ll gain additional insights into their care and usage.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Addressing common queries about pillow shams helps demystify their usage and care. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What happens if I don’t change my pillowcase?

  • Failure to change your pillowcase regularly can lead to the accumulation of dirt, oil, and bacteria. This can contribute to skin issues and allergies, impacting both the appearance and hygiene of your bedding.

When should I clean my pillowcases?

  • Pillowcases should ideally be cleaned every one to two weeks. However, if you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergies, more frequent washing may be necessary. Regular washing ensures a clean and comfortable sleep environment.

Are pillow shams just for decoration?

  • While pillow shams primarily serve a decorative purpose, they also provide a level of protection for sleeping pillows. They can shield pillows from dust and dirt, contributing to the overall cleanliness of your bedding.

Should I buy a pillowcase for a body pillow?

  • Yes, using a pillowcase for a body pillow is recommended. It provides a protective layer, making it easier to clean and maintain the hygiene of the body pillow. Choose a pillowcase that fits the dimensions of your body pillow.

Can you use a pillow sham as a pillowcase?

  • While it’s possible to use a pillow sham as a pillowcase, it’s essential to consider the design and purpose of the sham. Shams often have decorative elements like flanges or unique fabrics that may not be as comfortable for sleeping. If using for sleeping, ensure the sham provides the desired level of comfort.

Should the pillow be bigger than the sham?

  • Ideally, the pillow should be slightly larger than the sham to ensure a snug and well-filled appearance. This creates a visually appealing and tailored look. However, the size difference should not be significant to avoid an overstuffed or awkward appearance.

These frequently asked questions provide valuable insights into the practical aspects of using and caring for pillow shams. As we delve deeper into the designer’s definition of a sham and explore creative ways to style a bed with pillow shams, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of how these versatile bedding accessories can enhance your bedroom decor.


In conclusion, understanding the intricacies of pillow shams goes beyond their decorative allure. These versatile bedding accessories not only add a layer of sophistication to your bed but also serve functional roles in protecting and enhancing your sleep space. From choosing the right sham pillow and coordinating with various pillow types to exploring creative styling ideas and maintaining proper care, this article has provided a comprehensive guide to mastering the art of pillow shams. Whether you prefer a classic, matchy look or enjoy experimenting with stand-out patterns and sizes, the key lies in thoughtful selection and intentional styling. As you embark on the journey of transforming your bed into a personalized haven, armed with knowledge about shams, sizes, and care tips, you can curate a bedroom aesthetic that reflects your unique style and ensures a restful night’s sleep. Sweet dreams await in the embrace of your beautifully adorned and thoughtfully arranged pillow sham haven.

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