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What is a Bed Sham?

Bedding Resources
Read Time: 6 minutes
  • Pillow shams are decorative pillow coverings that add flair and brightness to your bedroom design, offering a colorful alternative to traditional pillowcases, and are often part of bedding sets to match or complement existing decor.
  • Different types of pillow shams include standard, flanged, and quilted shams, each serving unique decorative purposes and compatible with various bed sizes, allowing sleepers to create a personalized and stylish bedroom arrangement.
  • When choosing pillow shams, consider factors such as mattress size, pillow size, and closure type, ensuring that the shams fit your pillows properly and match your desired bedroom aesthetic, adding a touch of color and fun to your bedroom setup.

We always recommend that you cover your pillow with some type of case. Not only do pillow coverings keep your pillow protected, but they also can add a little flair to your bedroom design. Bed shams are a colorful alternative to traditional pillowcases.

If you’re looking to switch up your bed and bedroom aesthetic, consider investing in one or several bed shams. You can purchase these pillow coverings individually or as part of a more extensive bedding set.

In this article, we’ll take a look at bed shams and compare them to pillowcases. We’ll also assist you in determining whether you need a bed sham for your pillow. To finish up, we’ll answer some of your bed sham questions.

Bed Sham: What is it?

While bed shams aren’t a necessity for every pillow on your bed, they are an easy way to add some fun and brightness to your bedroom design. They are much like a bed skirt, which isn’t necessary to have but can add some cheer to the frame.

Due to their decorative nature, most sleepers don’t actually sleep on a bed sham pillow or throw pillow. Often the face of the bed sham has decorative elements like beading, bows, flanges, or buttons.

Many people like to have their bed sham match or blend in with their existing bedding. That is why most bedding sets come with bed shams in addition to or in place of standard pillowcases.

For those looking for a completely different bed sham than what their bedding set offers, there are plenty of options out there. You can shop for bed shams online, at your local furniture store, or at department stores.

Types and Sizes


If you want a bed sham somewhat similar to a regular pillowcase, it’s best to go with a pillow bed sham. This type of bed sham can be as bright and bold as you want. However, it won’t differ in appearance from a traditional pillowcase as a flanged or quilted bed sham does.


A flanged bed sham has flanges all around the outer edges of the pillow shams to make it look both fancier and larger. If you don’t have many pillows on your bed, you may wish to opt for this type of bed sham to make the few pillows you do have stand out more. Flanged bed shams go well with king or California king size pillows.


Quilted bed shams feature a checkered or patterned design similar to that of a standard quilt. This type of bed sham is ideal for beds that have a quilted comforter or those wanting to give their bedroom a more rustic appearance.

Bed Sham Sizes

As with any other bedding accessory, it is vital to keep your bed and pillow size in mind. You need to ensure that the bed sham(s) you are purchasing will fit your bed’s existing pillows. Bed shams come in the following sizes:


Standard pillow shams are meant to fit twin, twin XL, and full size bed pillows. Therefore, a standard bed sham is also suitable for a split king bed that features two twin XL size mattress halves. Standard bed shams measure 26 inches by 20 inches.


As the name implies, a queen size bed sham is intended to fit any pillow you may have on top of your queen size mattress. Queen bed shams can be difficult to find at some stores or retailers. Your queen bed sham should measure 30 inches by 20 inches.


Those with a king or California king size mattress need to opt for bigger bed shams. A king sham measures 36 inches by 20 inches. We recommend that even those with California king sized mattresses have no more than 10 to 12 king pillows on their beds.

Benefits of a Bed Sham

Decorative shams are not known for keeping pillows protected or for being incredibly stain resistant. However, there are some noteworthy benefits to investing in a bed sham for your bed or couch. Bed shams can add a pop of color or fun to your bedroom set-up.

In some instances, you can use a bed sham to draw attention to your bed and make it the room’s focal point. Bed shams also offer some back support for those who like to read, work, watch TV, or sit up in bed for prolonged periods. However, some people find a reading pillow works better for this purpose.

Others may prefer the freedom and convenience of an adjustable bed, particularly if they’re living with a medical condition that affects their sleep or movement.

Choosing the Best Pillow Shams

If you decide you’d like to buy decorative accent pillows, there are a few different things to consider when shopping for the best bed sham. The first is the size of your mattress. Smaller beds and mattresses don’t have a lot of room for pillows. Therefore, you’ll likely only need one or two decorative bed shams for your pillows.

The size of your pillows is another relevant factor you need to know. It won’t do you much good to purchase a bed sham that won’t fit your existing bedroom pillows. Some bed shams feature a zip-up or button-up back rather than just an open slit. If you’re worried about your pillow getting dirty, consider getting a bed sham with a zipper closure.

One of the biggest debates many consumers face is whether to get a bed sham that matches their current duvet or comforter and bedroom decor. There is no one size fits all approach to this dilemma. It ultimately comes down to personal preferences and what you think looks best in your bedroom or guest room.

Bed Shams vs. Pillowcases

You may be wondering what the significant differences between bed shams and pillowcases are. Here are just a few of the major differences between these two pillow coverings:

  • Regular pillows that are covered with bed shams aren’t meant for sleeping. In contrast, pillowcases are designed to keep pillows protected and provide you with a comfortable sleep surface.
  • Standard size pillow shams have a back slit or opening where they can be slid onto your pillow. Pillowcases have a left or right side slot where you slide your pillow in.
  • The majority of bed shams are made of more luxurious fabrics like silk or cashmere. In comparison, most pillowcases are made of cotton, polyester, or linen.
  • You may damage or tear your bed sham if you decide to machine wash and dry it. However, it is almost always the case that regular pillowcases can be machine washed and dried. For more information, read our guide on how to wash pillows.
  • Pillowcases don’t come with flanges, but a decorative pillowcase like a bed sham may feature flanges around their outer edges.


What size is a European pillow sham?

A Euro sham measures 26 inches by 26 inches. You’ll need to pair a Euro sham only with a pillow that is labeled as Euro. Euro pillows are square-shaped and can also be found on sofas, couches, and futons. Square pillows provide extra support for your back.

What is a boudoir sham?

A boudoir sham is meant for smaller, rectangular-shaped pillows. These smaller pillows are often referred to as throw pillows.

Boudoir pillow shams measure 12 inches by 16 inches. Most boudoir pillows come with their own bed sham.

Do shams go in front or back?

Pillows with bed shams on them can go anywhere in your simple arrangement. Some people choose to have their sham-covered pillows go front and center to draw attention to their beds. If you have bed sham-covered pillows on your couch, you can place them to the sides or in the center.

Do pillow shams have to match the comforter?

Pillow shams do not have to match the comforter on your bed. Your bedding ensemble should come with one or two pillow shams. However, if you wish to purchase a different colored or patterned pillow sham, you can certainly do so. An accent color pillow sham adds unique decorative touches to a room.

What’s the difference between a bed duvet and a bed sham?

A bed duvet or duvet cover is a decorative cover for your comforter on your bed and serves a decorative purpose. A bed sham is also meant for decoration, but it covers your pillows instead of your comforter.

Both of these bed covers include decorative features and have special care instructions. While neither item is necessary, they do add a touch of luxury to your bedroom.


Pillows are necessary for a good night’s sleep. How you choose to cover or adorn your pillows is up to you. Some people prefer the simplicity of a standard pillow. Others, like the ostentatious design of a decorative pillow with a standard sham.

Pillow shams are not meant to be put on sleeping pillows. They come in a variety of different styles. You can decorate your bed with pillows of various sizes. When shopping for pillow covers, make sure you know what sized pillow you have on your bed. You can often simply your shopping by picking out the best sheets with matching shams.

Meg Riley Certified Sleep Science Coach

Meg Riley is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a full-time writer focused on sleep and mattresses. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Sleep Junkie.

Meg started to focus on the sleep industry in 2018. Since then, she has written over 70+ articles on sleep hygiene, product reviews, and the newest trends in the mattress and bedding industry.

A non-exhaustive list of some of the topics she has written on: the effectiveness of alarm clocks, how to prevent jet lag, the NREM & REM Sleep Cycle, and causes and treatments of Restless Legs Syndrome.

Meg Riley has her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University where she studied Advertising and Public Relations and wrote articles on the student experience for College Magazine.

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