Pillow Sham: 28 Questions Answered

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What is a pillow sham

Pillow shams might confuse people as there are a lot of questions flying around about them, ranging from their usage to even what they are. This article answers the most frequently asked questions about pillow shams.

What Is a Pillow Sham?

Pillow shams

The definition of a pillow sham can get tricky. Many people define it as simply a pillowcase. However, pillow shams are much more nuanced!

They are an excellent accessory for your bed with many different materials to choose from and function as both great decorative pieces for your bedroom and extra back support.

In other words, they are much more than simple pillowcases! They also open in the middle of the back with overlapping fabric or a hidden zipper, as opposed to the basic opening of pillowcases. Pillow shams also feature frilled edges that provide a more nuanced and sophisticated look.

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What Does a Pillow Sham Look Like?

Pillow shams come in different materials, colors, and designs. They look different from regular pillowcases as each is usually designed to fit into the look of the bed they sit on top of, so they have matching patterns and colors.

The material used in pillow shams also varies. So, their visual texture can also be different. Instead of having an opening slit on one side of the pillow with extra cloth hanging, pillow shams often have a hidden zipper or an envelope-like closing mechanism.

Some pillow shams have additional decorative buttons, zippers, or ties on them.

What Is the Purpose of a Pillow Sham?

Pillow shams are often used for decorative purposes, mainly to give your bedroom a sense of completeness while keeping your bed neat and classy.

They sit on your bed, usually in a group of three or more, and their intricate designs and colors match the rest of your bed. A tasteful assortment of pillow shams, or “your bed’s makeup,” as some call them, might be just what your bed needs to feel complete.

Are Shams Just for Decoration?

Definitely not. Despite mainly being utilized as accessories on your bed to give it a sophisticated, complete look, pillow shams have their practical purposes, too.

Firstly, and most obviously, they can be used for back support when the bed is being used for reading, relaxing, or any other leisure activity.

Pillow shams also cover the pillows used for sleeping, keeping them away from dust and dirt. They also provide a soft and warm embrace whenever you feel like laying on your bed during the day, although it is recommended that they are removed for actual sleep.

Why are Pillow Shams Called Shams?

The word “sham” basically means something that is not the thing it seems to be, or something deceptive. The term “pillow sham” most probably originates from the fact that they are intended as decorative and sophisticated pieces, even though they look like plain pillowcases.

This “deception” of pillow shams covering the face of the actual pillow inside with different patterns and colors made of different materials is most likely why they earned the name “pillow shams.”

Are Pillow Shams Pillows?

Not in the sense we are all used to. Unlike the pillows we use to sleep on, pillow shams are mainly intended to be decorative pieces for your bedroom. Their casings are very different from regular pillows, and they are fancier as well! They might look similar but are not the same thing.

See all pillow types here

Do Shams Go Behind Pillows or in Front?

During the day, shams go in front of the pillows used in the bed. That way, they give the desired look of a nice and neat bed while keeping your pillows secure.

Additionally, putting the shams in front of the actual pillows keeps them protected from dirt, dust, and exposure to the sun. That way, they stay clean for much longer and provide the user with more comfort.

Despite all that, instead of being tossed off at night, shams can be placed behind the pillows before going to sleep for additional height for the head if desired. Ultimately, it depends on how you are comfortable sleeping.

Can you Sleep on a Pilllow Sham?

Technically, you can, but it’s not recommended.

While pillow shams are designed to be as comfortable as they are great looking, the best comfort definitely comes from pillows designed specifically for sleep. Depending on their materials, sleeping on them might cause them to wear out more quickly.

Despite that, if you are comfortable sleeping on your pillow shams, there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Just make sure you get enough support for your neck and head during sleep, and you should be fine.

Are Shams Really Necessary?

Pillow shams provide a unique sense of completeness and class to your bedroom, so much so that once you start decorating your bed with them, it might start seeming “off.” After being used for a while, pillow shams become an integral part of the overall look and feel of your bedroom.

They also provide cover for your actual pillows underneath from dust and dirt, thereby improving your quality of sleep. In addition, pillow shams are also used as back support whenever you decide to sit on your bed.

All that being said, you can absolutely use your bed without any pillow shams. We like to compare it to eating a burger with just a patty; some people prefer it that way, and it is perfectly fine, but why not spice it up with more ingredients?

What Is the Difference Between a Pillowcase and Pillow Sham?

Pillowcases are the thin cloth coverings placed on the pillow you sleep on. They have an open slit on one side of the pillow, making it possible to change the case easily.

Having been designed to serve their functional purpose first and foremost, they have very little to no decorating elements on them. They are simple or even sometimes non-existent in terms of patterns and shapes on the cover.

The material pillowcases are often made of is soft and thin as they are meant to be slept on. Basically, pillowcases are the pillow covers that are usually included in a bed sheet set and used to cover the pillows you sleep on.

Pillow shams, on the other hand, are decorative and more complex pillowcases placed on pillows on top of your bed. They feature more intricate designs; some have complicated overlapping openings in the back, whereas others include zippers or buttons.

They are more decoration-heavy than regular pillowcases since they are intended to be used as accessories. Colorful patterns, embossments, and even decorative buttons and zippers are sometimes featured on pillow shams.

The material used for making them is usually thicker and of higher quality, providing a more durable cover for the cost of comfort, but that is fine since they aren’t intended for sleeping anyway.

What Is the Difference Between a Flanged and Ruffle Pillow Sham?

The terms “flanged” and “ruffled” refer to the edges of pillow shams and how they are styled. Flanged pillow shams have flat side borders that have been closed tightly to secure the pillow inside. It is also difficult to see the “lines” of the border, unlike regular pillowcases.

Ruffled pillow shams have wavy-looking sides made of a thinner cloth. They both provide a unique look to your pillow shams. Choosing between the two is usually a matter of preference and whether it matches your bedroom or not.

Either way, we recommend you stick to one type of pillow sham, as having both types might be too much.

What Is the Difference Between a Sham and a Duvet?

Duvets are a type of blanket that covers your entire bed in order to both give it a nice and complete look and protect it from dust. They are usually made from soft and fluffy clothes; some even use feathers as fillings to give an authentic softness.

Pillow shams, on the other hand, are for decorating pillows placed on top of the bed. Typically, pillow shams go on top of your duvet to provide the look of a gorgeous, complete bed. We recommend using them both in your bedroom as they complement each other.

Do Shams Have to Match Duvets?

If you are going for a complete and organized look for your bedroom, your pillow shams should match the duvets. In most cases, pillow shams go directly over the duvet, so they should look like parts of the same set.

For this reason, you are going to want them to match. Think of them as a pair of pants and a shirt, to achieve a nice look they need to match or at least complement each other.

What Kind of Pillow do You Put in a Sham?

It is very important that the pillow you put in a sham is fluffy and fills up the sham completely. Even though there are a few alternatives, feather pillows are usually soft enough to fill the corners of your sham while having the fluffiness you need.

Not filling in the corners or having enough fluff will cause your sham to look limp, which may ruin the whole look of your bed. As an alternative, you can also go for a polyester fill, which is great for a poofy look.

It is also really durable, which helps with reducing wear over time. We recommend you try both a feather pillow and a polyester fill to compare the two and decide. No matter which type you pick, it is crucial that all the shams on a bed have the same type of pillow inside them to make them look neat and uniform.

What Size Pillow Fits a Sham?

Questions like “what size pillow for sham should I get?” arise all the time, so let us break down the pillow sham sizes here. The size of the pillow sham changes in the range of a couple of different types.

For instance, the standard sham pillow size is 20” X 26” – that is what you’re getting as standard pillow sham dimensions. However, some beds are too large for the standard, and thus a bigger sham is needed.

King pillow sham size is 20” X 36″, which is sure to be a great fit for a king-sized bed. If your bed isn’t as large but still larger than a standard one, you might go for a queen pillow sham, which is 20” X 30”.

Another alternative is the Euro size sham, which is about 26” X 26”, so you can go for one of those if you are looking to get a square pillow sham. As long as you know what type of sham you need – king, queen, standard, or Euro – you will be able to find the right pillow for it.

Will a Queen Pillow Fit in a Standard Sham?

A queen pillow is 20” X 30″, whereas a standard sham is 20” X 26”. The ten-inch difference between them will not allow the queen pillow to fit inside a standard sham. Even though you can try to squeeze the pillow in, we don’t recommend straining your sham that much as it will cause damage to it.

How Do You Make a Pillow Sham Look Full?

There are two main ways to make a pillow sham look full. The first and most important one is finding the right size for the pillow you are going to use inside your sham.

There are four main standards for sham sizes: king, queen, standard, and Euro. Find out the type of sham you have and pick the corresponding pillow size to ensure your pillow fits the sham nicely.

The second thing to do is to decide on its material. Some people have difficulty filling in the corners of their sham. If you have similar issues, we recommend trying a feather pillow, which is fluffy by nature and easy to fill.

What is a Euro Pillow Sham?

Euro pillow shams might be confusing. There are a lot of questions, such as “What is a Euro pillow sham?” or “What size pillow is a Euro sham?” surrounding them. Let us explain it easily.

They are just like other pillow shams. The “Euro” in their name refers to their size, just like how “king” and “queen” refer to different sizes of shams. The size of a European pillow sham is typically 26” X 26”, although some stores offer other varieties such as 27” X 27” or 22” X 22”.

Regardless, a Euro sham pillow is distinguished from the other types by its square shape. They are fantastic accessories for your bed and will make your bedroom look complete and classy.

What is a Throw Pillow Sham?

You can think of throw pillow shams as a smaller and more versatile version of Euro pillow shams. They are 20” x 20” pillow shams often used as decor pieces, just like other types of pillow shams.

However, their 20” X 20” size is smaller than the other types, making it possible to use them as decorations on couches in addition to beds. Throw pillow shams come in all kinds of patterns and materials, so you can choose the best one that suits your home and decorate your bed or couch with them.  

What is a Body Pillow Sham?

Body pillow sham is a special type of pillow sham that is much larger than any other types. Typically made in an I-shape, the size of a body pillow sham is usually 20” X 54”. Its long size allows all sorts of benefits for people with back problems, side sleepers, and pregnant women.

Arranging the body pillow so it covers your entire back helps your body relax and relieves back pain originating from hard surfaces. They also provide comfort to side sleepers since they are designed to be tucked in between your legs during sleep.

Body pillow shams provide style and uniqueness to the body pillows as well as protect the actual pillow from wear and tear, so they are a must-have.

Does a Pillow Sham Always Come with Zipper?

A pillow sham usually comes with a zipper. Pillow shams have a variety of types when it comes to their openings, unlike regular pillowcases, which have simple slits on one side. Most pillow shams have a hidden zipper on the side as it’s aesthetically pleasing and a very easy way to access the pillow.

Some, however, do not feature a zipper and instead are designed in an envelope shape on the back. While not as easy as a zipper, an envelope shape also provides easy access to the pillow while looking as stylish, possibly even more so!

How Do You Make a Pillow Sham from a Pillowcase?

If you want to turn your pillowcase into a pillow sham in the simplest way possible, you can use the excess fabric hanging over the side of the slit opening of your pillowcase.

Simply sew the cloth shut to completely enclose the pillow inside and sew a zipper in its place. Cutting the excess cloth after the zipper is installed makes it possible for you to hide the zipper afterward.

Making your own pillow sham this way, however, limits you to one type of material with one type of design on it, so making a pillow sham from scratch will give you more creative freedom to design whatever you want, although it takes more effort and skill.

How Do You Put a Pillow Sham on a Bed?

Arranging pillow shams on a bed might be confusing as it is difficult to decide how many pillows a bed needs and in what order. Essentially, it all boils down to the preference of the user, but we have some recommendations for you.

To achieve a good look the pillow shams must go on top of your bed (or ideally your duvet) and not beneath. Pillow shams are meant to enrichen the overall feel of your bedroom, so ideally you shouldn’t cover them up.

When it comes to the matter of quantity, we think that three or four is about where the sweet spot is. You don’t want to overcrowd your bed with pillow shams, but just putting one or two makes your bed look empty, so a good pile of three or four pillow shams should work.

Of course, the number can go up depending on the size of your bed and your shams.

What are the Best Materials for Pillow Sham?

Cotton is perhaps the most widely used material for pillow shams thanks to its softness and durability. Many different types of cotton can be used, including a popular one called “cloud cotton”.

It is incredibly soft and fluffy, as its name suggests, and its texture provides a light look to your bedroom. Matelasse is another type of cotton, and its unique feature is that it includes structured waves. This gives your sham a simple yet classy striped texture that goes well with most bedrooms.

Some people like to go for a polyester and cotton mix in terms of material since polyester is known for being more durable and wrinkle-resistant. Since pillow shams are mainly used for decorative purposes, choosing a polyester mix may keep your shams looking neat for longer.

Another choice is silk or linen. Many people love to feel the luxurious texture of authentic silk on their beds. Silk and linen have a higher heat capacitance than their peers, meaning they stay colder for a longer time.

So, if you’re looking for that, you might be interested. Lastly, satin is yet another luxurious alternative for your pillow sham. Its smooth texture takes care of your skin well, and its soft look will add so much appeal to your bedroom overall.

Do Personalized Pillow Shams Exist?

Personalized pillow shams exist, and the varieties are nearly endless! From getting your name embroidered on the face of the sham to printing any image you want on it, you can get pillow shams tailored to your preference.

If you want to make your pillow sham truly your own, you can use a variety of cloth printing techniques depending on the material. Alternatively, you can have custom embroidery made on your pillow sham. In short, the possibilities are endless!

Are They Safe for Toddlers?

Pillow shams are mostly safe for toddlers, although it is advised to always be careful. They usually don’t contain any small parts that a toddler can swallow, so there should be no choking hazards.

You should still be careful with pillow shams that have zippers. Unsupervised toddlers may have their skin caught in the zipper and get injured. The zipper itself may also fall off, causing a potential choking hazard.

Though these are extreme case scenarios, not hedging your bets and making sure your toddler is safe is the best choice. But generally speaking, it is very unlikely that a pillow sham will pose any danger to any toddler.

How to Clean a Pillow Sham?

Keeping your pillow shams clean is essential if you want them to stay elegant for years to come, though it is difficult to decide how to clean them. Your best bet when it comes to pillow shams is handwashing whenever possible, as they tend to be very delicate, and a washing machine may prove to be too harsh.

Some fabrics, such as silk and velvet, should be handled with utmost care and be cleaned with dry cleaning only as washing may damage them. Other fabrics like cotton and polyester are safer to hand wash, though you should use the mildest possible detergent to reduce the risk of damaging your pillow sham.

If you must, use the delicate cycle on your washing machine for the machine-wash option, but be careful! Not all fabrics are compatible with your machine.

For smaller stains, spot-cleaning is your best bet, but it would be wiser to test your method of cleaning in a small, inconspicuous area of the fabric to see if the color transfers to your towel. If there is no color transfer and the area you tested remains the same (no fading or spotting), you are safe for spot-cleaning.

All in all, the best way to know how to clean your pillow sham is by checking the care label located inside your sham near where the zipper is. It should have clear instructions on how to clean them. If you are ever in doubt, make sure to follow them.

Read more about how to wash pillows here

Where to Buy the Best Pillow Shams?

You can find the best pillow shams within your desired budget on the following sites:

Best places to buy pillows online
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