What Is a Pillow Sham? Complete Guide

A pillow sham is a decorative cover for your pillows, meant to make your bed look more stylish. It's different from a regular pillowcase because it's fancier and used more for decoration than for sleeping on.


Made from lovely fabrics and available in many designs, pillow shams usually have a hidden opening to put the pillow in and might have extra details like borders. They're great for matching with your bedding to pull the whole look of your bedroom together.


Want to see how a pillow sham can upgrade your bed? Read on to learn more.


What Is a Sham?


A pillow sham is a decorative covering for a pillow that provides a false front. It is similar to a stylish pillowcase that adds a touch of sophistication to your bed.


Unlike regular pillowcases used for sleeping, pillow shams are designed primarily for decorative purposes.


A pillow sham typically has either a zipper along one edge or an opening on the back with an envelope-style closure. It often has a flange or cording around the edges and a more decorative front, whereas a pillowcase is often plain and used to protect your pillow from body oils and dirt while you sleep.


The purpose of a pillow sham is to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your bed. It is a simple and affordable way to add a touch of elegance to your bedding decor.


Pillow shams come in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures, allowing you to mix and match to create a unique look that reflects your personal style.


Quick History of Shams

The use of shams dates back to the 18th century when people started manufacturing false front covers for their bed pillows to spruce them up as bedding decoration.


The term "sham" stems from the meaning of "a thing that is not what it is purported to be." While a sham isn't designed to deceive anyone, it does have a disguising quality.


Pillow shams are meant to cover a regular pillow with a removable, decorative case. Unlike a throw pillow, which is used exclusively for comfort, a pillow sham is used for both decorative and functional purposes.


Over time, the design of pillow shams has evolved to include a wide range of styles and materials.


Today, you can find shams made from various fabrics, such as cotton, silk, linen, and velvet, and adorned with intricate embroidery, lace, or beading. Some shams even feature unique shapes, such as round or square, to add an extra element of visual interest to your bed.


Shams vs. Pillowcases

When it comes to pillows, shams and pillowcases are two common types of coverings that are often used interchangeably. However, there are significant differences between the two that you should be aware of before making your purchase.


The primary distinction between shams and pillowcases is their intended use.


Pillowcases are designed to protect the pillow and keep it clean, while shams are used mainly for decorative purposes.


Shams are usually larger than pillowcases, and they often have extra fabric on the edges that create a decorative border.


Another difference between shams and pillowcases is their closure.


Pillowcases usually have an open end where you can slide the pillow in and out, while shams have a closure on one end, either a zipper or an envelope-style closure. This closure helps to keep the pillow securely in place inside the sham.


Choosing Between Shams and Pillowcases


When deciding between a sham and a pillowcase, you should consider your primary purpose for the covering.


If you want to protect your pillow from dirt and stains, a pillowcase is the better choice.


Pillowcases are usually made from soft and breathable fabrics such as cotton or linen, which are comfortable to sleep on.


On the other hand, if you want to add a decorative touch to your bed or couch, a sham is the way to go.


Shams come in a wide range of colors, patterns, and sizes, making them an excellent choice for adding a pop of color or texture to your bedding or furniture.


Shams are often made from more luxurious fabrics such as silk or velvet, which are not as durable as cotton or linen but offer a more upscale look and feel.


When it comes to size, shams are usually larger than pillowcases.


The most common sizes for shams are Euro, King, Queen, Standard, and Boudoir. Each size corresponds to a specific pillow size, so it's essential to measure your pillow before purchasing a sham to ensure a proper fit.


What To Consider in Choosing a Pillow Sham


From the material and size to the style and design, each aspect plays a role in creating the ideal aesthetic and comfort level.


Materials and Fabrics

The material of your sham can greatly impact the look and feel of your bedding.


Cotton and linen are popular choices for shams due to their durability and breathability. Meanwhile, silk shams can add a touch of luxury and elegance to your bedding.


Consider the texture and color of the fabric as well, as it can affect the overall aesthetic of your bedding.


Sizes and Fits

It is essential to select the right size of sham to fit your pillows properly.


Standard shams measure 20 x 26 inches, while king shams measure 20 x 36 inches. European shams are square and measure 26 x 26 inches.


Make sure to measure your pillows and select the appropriate size for your shams to ensure a proper fit.


Style and Design

The style and design of your shams can greatly impact the overall look of your bedding.


Consider the aesthetic you are going for and choose shams that complement your existing bedding.


Bold, colorful designs can add a pop of personality to your bedding, while neutral shams can create a more serene and calming atmosphere.


How To Take Care of Pillow Shams


When it comes to pillow shams, there are a few things you should know to ensure that you get the most out of them. Here we will discuss the appropriate pillow inserts to use, as well as how to maintain and care for your sham.


Appropriate Pillow Inserts

One important aspect of using a pillow sham is ensuring that you have the appropriate pillow insert.


Euro pillow shams are designed to fit square Euro pillows, while standard and king size shams are made to fit their respective sizes of sleeping pillows.


Using the wrong size insert can result in an ill-fitting sham, which can affect the overall look of your bedding.


In addition to ensuring the correct size, you should also consider the level of comfort you desire from your sham.


A comfortable insert will make your sham more enjoyable to use, while a less comfortable one can detract from your sleeping experience.


Consider factors such as firmness, softness, and support when selecting a pillow insert.


Maintenance and Care

To keep your pillow sham looking its best, it is important to properly maintain and care for it.


One important aspect of this is washing your sham regularly. Be sure to follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure that you do not damage your sham.


When washing your sham, use a gentle detergent and avoid using bleach or fabric softeners. These can damage the fabric and affect the overall look and feel of your sham.


It is also important to avoid using high heat when drying your sham, as this can shrink or damage the fabric.


Another important aspect of caring for your sham is protecting it from damage.


To do this, consider using a pillow protector underneath your sham. This can help to prevent damage from sweat, oils, and other substances that can affect the appearance and longevity of your sham.



Pillow shams are not just for show; they add a special touch to your room’s style. You can change your room's feel with different fabrics and patterns just by using shams. They do more than look good as they can make your bed cozier, too.


If you're looking to update your bedroom, take a peek at our selection of pillow shams to find the perfect fit.


Frequently Asked Questions


What materials are typically used to make pillow shams?

Pillow shams can be made from a variety of materials, including cotton, linen, silk, and polyester.


The choice of material often depends on the desired look and feel of the sham, as well as its intended use.


For example, cotton and linen shams are popular for their durability and breathability, while silk shams are often chosen for their luxurious feel and sheen.


What is the intended use of a pillow sham?

The primary use of a pillow sham is to add style and visual appeal to a bed or couch.


Pillow shams are often used in conjunction with other decorative bedding items, such as duvet covers, bed skirts, and throw pillows, to create a cohesive and inviting look.


While pillow shams can be used for sleeping, they are primarily intended for decorative purposes.


Is it practical to sleep on a pillow sham?

While it is possible to sleep on a pillow sham, it is not the intended use.


Pillow shams are primarily designed for decorative purposes and may not be as comfortable or durable as a standard pillowcase.


Additionally, the decorative embellishments on a pillow sham may be uncomfortable or irritate the skin during sleep.

What sizes do pillow shams come in?

Pillow shams come in a variety of sizes to fit different pillow types.


The most common sizes are standard, queen, and king, which correspond to the standard sizes of pillows.


Euro shams, which are square, are also popular and typically measure 26" x 26". Boudoir shams, which have a small rectangular shape, are less common but still available.


Are pillow shams still commonly used in home decor?

Yes, pillow shams are still commonly used in home decor. They are a versatile and easy way to add style and visual interest to a bed or couch.


Pillow shams come in a wide variety of colors, patterns, and textures. This makes it easy to find a style that complements your decor.