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What Is a Pillow Sham?

Bedding Resources
Read Time: 7 minutes

  • Purpose of Pillow Shams: Pillow shams serve both a decorative and functional purpose in bedroom decor, adding style and comfort to create a personalized sleep setting.
  • Distinction from Pillowcases: Unlike pillowcases, which primarily protect pillows, pillow shams are larger, decorative covers that focus on enhancing the bed’s aesthetic with patterns, colors, and closures.
  • Size Chart: Pillow shams come in various sizes, including Standard (20″ x 26″), Queen (20″ x 30″), King (20″ x 36″), and Euro (27″ x 27″). Choosing the right size is essential for achieving a well-balanced and stylish look on your bed.

In home decor, numerous elements contribute to a room’s aesthetics, and the often-overlooked pillow sham is a key player. Encountering this term while shopping for bedding may leave you wondering, “What is a pillow sham, and why do I need one?” This article delves into the world of pillow shams, unraveling their purpose, versatility, and potential to elevate your bedroom decor. Discover how these understated pieces can seamlessly blend comfort and style, adding a touch of sophistication to your personal space. Unveil the secrets behind pillow shams and unlock new possibilities for enhancing your bedroom with both flair and coziness.

What Are Pillow Shams Used For?

A pillow sham could be missing if you want to create a stylish, cozy, and comfortable sleeping environment. Pillow shams offer several benefits to your sleeping experience:

Enhance Style

A pillow sham can increase the personal style of a room, adding an extra boost of personality. Whether you opt to enhance the appearance and ambiance of your bed with detailed patterns or lively colors, pillow shams empower you to craft the ideal sleep setting.


Depending on the material, a pillow sham can create a softer and, more cozy and comfortable sleeping experience. Consider the texture and choose materials like velvet, silk, or cotton sateen to add a sense of luxury and comfort to bed pillows in your sleeping space.

Seasonal Decor

One of the great advantages of pillow shams is their versatility. Switching your pillow shams throughout the year gives your bed a seasonal feel. This enables you to maintain a fresh decor without overhauling your entire bed.

See Also: Pillowcase Sizes and Dimensions

Pillow Sham vs. Pillowcase

While both are protective for sleeping pillows, key differences exist between a pillow sham and a pillowcase. A pillowcase is like a protective cover for your pillow, keeping it safe from dirt and moisture while giving you a comfy surface to rest your head. On the other hand, a pillow sham is more about looks than protection. It can also shield your pillow, but its main job is to make your bed look stylish and fancy.

Pillow shams are like decorative pieces with fancy patterns and closures that hide the pillow inside. They’re bigger than regular pillowcases, covering the whole pillow, and can match the style of your bedroom. So, even though both protect your pillow, pillow shams are the way to go when you want to make your bed look extra nice.

Pillow Sham Size Chart

Pillow SizeDimensions (inches)
Standard20" x 26"
Queen20" x 30"
King20" x 36"
Euro27" x 27"

How to Select the Right Sham: Style Guides

When picking your pillow sham, there are several factors to consider, including colors, patterns, textures, and layers. These factors can impact the overall aesthetic and atmosphere of your bedroom decor.

Colors and Patterns

When picking a pillow sham for your bed, consider your room’s colors first. Choose a sham color that fits or stands out from your bedspread and sheets. Consider the mood you want—soft pastels for calmness or bold colors for energy. Also, consider your bed size; big beds can handle bold patterns, while smaller ones may need subtler designs. Think about your style—classic, modern, bohemian—and pick matching patterns. Keep balance in mind; if your bedspread is busy, go for a solid-colored sham. Consider these factors to choose a comfy sham that adds to your bedroom’s look.

Texture and Layers

Selecting textures and layers for your bed’s pillow shams is crucial to balance comfort and aesthetics. Consider the ambiance you want to achieve. Opt for pillow shams with plush textures like velvet, silk, or cotton sateen for a cozy and inviting feel. These materials not only offer a luxurious touch but also contribute to a comfortable sleeping environment.

Take into account the season and climate as well. Choose lightweight and breathable fabrics like linen for summer, while plush and velvety shams offer warmth during colder months. Experiment with mixing materials, such as silk and faux fur, to create a visually dynamic and inviting appearance. Ensure a cohesive look by coordinating colors and patterns for a harmonious blend.

How to Style a Pillow Sham

How you style your pillow shams sham pillows can ultimately make or break your bedroom’s design layout and aesthetic appeal. There are various ways to style pillow shams, depending on your needs and preferences and the overall look you want.


A neat and organized bed is easily accomplished by stacking your pillow shams on top of each other. Begin by placing your standard pillows against the headboard as the base. Arrange your decorative pillow shams in a stacked manner, beginning with the biggest at the bottom and progressing to the smallest at the top. This creates a clean and streamlined look for your bed. This method works well if you want a polished and symmetrical look for twin beds.


Layering is another popular way to style pillow shams. Start by using standard pillowcases as the foundational layer, positioning them against the headboard. Next, introduce a layer of Euro shams, which are generally larger and square in shape, positioned in front of the standard pillows. Following this, add decorative pillow shams on top. When layering, mix and match various textures, colors, and patterns that complement both your bedding and room decor. Arrange the decorative shams by placing the biggest ones at the back and the smaller ones in the front, creating a visually appealing cascading effect. Feel free to experiment with different pillow sizes and shapes to enhance the overall aesthetic.


Creating an asymmetrical style for your pillow shams is a creative way to bring a dynamic and distinctive flair to your upscale bedding. Begin by positioning your regular pillows against the headboard. Next, arrange your pillow shams in an asymmetrical manner, deliberately mixing up their sizes, colors, and patterns. Offset them to one side, letting some overlap or even extend partially off the bed for an artistic touch. This styling technique introduces an element of visual interest and spontaneity to your bedding ensemble.

How to Care for Pillow Shams

Ensuring the durability and attractiveness of your pillow shams requires proper care. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  •  Wash your pillow shams along with your duvet every one to two weeks.
  • If the pillow shams have intricate detailing, textures, or beadwork, it’s best to hand wash them and let them air dry naturally.
  • If the pillow shams are not heavily textured or embellished, you can safely wash them in the machine, following the care instructions on the label.
  • Iron or steam the pillow shams to remove any wrinkles before placing them back on your pillows.
  • Store your pillow shams in a cool, dry place to prevent any damage.


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Are pillow shams meant to be slept on?

You can sleep on pillow shams, depending on their decorative features. If your sham has intricate details, textures, or beadwork, it’s probably not intended for sleeping. However, if the sham is made of comfortable materials like cotton or silk, it can serve both decorative and functional purposes.

How many pillow shams do I need?

The number of pillow shams you need depends on the size of your bed and your personal preference. Most queen-size beds look best with two or more Euro-size pillow shams, while king-size beds look best with three or more. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how many pillow shams you want to use to achieve the desired look.

What is the difference between a sham and a pillowcase?

The main difference between a sham and a pillowcase is their purpose and design. A pillowcase is primarily functional, serving as a protective covering for your pillow. In contrast, a sham is more decorative, designed to add style and elegance to your bedding ensemble. While king shams both serve a protective function, pillow shams are larger, often featuring intricate patterns, embellishments, and an envelope-style closure.

Do pillow shams go in front or behind?

The placement of pillow shams is a matter of personal preference. However, one popular way to style pillows is to stack the sleeping pillows behind and place the decorative pillow shams in front of king beds. This arrangement allows you to showcase the more decorative pillows while still providing a comfortable foundation for sleeping pillows.

Do pillow shams come with pillows?

No, pillow shams are designed to be put on regular pillows. They are separate from fabric or decorative throw pillows and are meant to cover and enhance the appearance of standard sleeping pillows.

What is a pillow sham, and how does it differ from a standard pillowcase?

A pillow sham is a decorative cover for a pillow created to improve the overall look of a bed. Unlike standard pillowcases, shams often feature unique designs, patterns, or textures. They are commonly found in bedding sets and are used to complement the duvet cover or comforter.

What is the role of a queen sham in bedding ensembles?

A queen sham is a type of pillow sham specifically designed to fit queen-sized pillows. It is an essential component of coordinating bedding sets, providing a cohesive look alongside the duvet cover or comforter. The overlapping length and hidden zipper of the queen sham ensure a neat and polished appearance.

How do European shams differ from standard shams in terms of design and size?

European shams, also known as Euro shams, are larger decorative pillow shams typically measuring 26 x 26 inches. These shams are renowned for their square shape and are often placed behind standard or queen shams to add depth and visual interest to the bedding ensemble. Their breathable fabric and unique designs make them a popular choice for elevating the overall aesthetics of a bed.


Pillow shams are a versatile and stylish addition to your bedroom decor. They enhance the overall aesthetics of your bedding ensemble while providing an extra layer of comfort. With a variety of sizes, colors, patterns, and textures to choose from, you can easily find pillow shams that match your personal style and preferences. Whether you prefer a stacked, layered, or asymmetrical look, pillow shams allow you to showcase your creativity and create a visually appealing sleeping space. So, elevate your bedroom decor with pillow shams and transform your bed into a stylish and cozy haven.

Christine Lapp is a full-time graduate student and part-time freelancer for Sleep Junkie. Since she was a little girl on the soccer field, Christine has had a love for sports, and she believes everybody should get up and get moving once a day. Now, she incorporates her love for exercise into her studies, pursuing a degree in exercise physiology. Christine understands that what you do during your waking hours has a direct impact on your night’s sleep. In our better sleep guides, she offers advice for developing healthy daytime habits to nurture a more peaceful slumber.

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