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What is a Bed Sham?

Written by Jackson Lindeke

What is a Bed Sham?

A bed sham is a decorative pillowcase that is used to add some aesthetic variety to the bedroom. Typically, they are used on pillows that are used for decoration during the day, and removed from the bed at night.

Bed shams may also be called pillow shams, as the two terms are used interchangeably. Other related terms that you might see include Euro sham, standard sham, or king sham. All three of these terms refer to distinct sizes of the same product (matching the corresponding pillow sizes).

Because they are designed purely for decorative use, bed shams are typically only embellished on one side. The front often has a decorative design, while the back is made with a solid fabric. Most bed shams are fastened at the back of the pillow, using either overlapping fabric, a hidden zipper, or buttons.

Bed shams can be found in a wide variety of colors and styles. From simple solid color designs (often matching other bedding components), to frilly lace, to modern, intricate designs, you can find just about any style of bed sham to fit your decorating preferences.

Bed shams are typically sold like pillow cases, meaning they do not generally come with pillows. The decorative shams are sold in sizes matching the standard pillow sizes. Because these pillows are not actually used for sleeping, most people opt to use relatively inexpensive pillows with their decorative bed shams.

Pillow shams are available in four standard sizes, as outlined below.

King Shams

A king sham is a large bed sham, measuring approximately 36 inches by 20 inches. These are designed to fit king-size pillows. Because of their wide dimensions, king shams are best suited for king and California king size beds. Alternatively, some people may prefer using a single decorative king sham pillow on a smaller bed, such as queen or full.

Standard Shams

A standard sham is the smallest size, measuring approximately 26 inches by 20 inches. These fit standard-size pillows, and are best suited for twin beds. Alternatively, two standard sham pillows will fit nicely side-by-side on a full or double bed.

Queen Shams

Queen shams measure approximately 30 inches by 20 inches, and are designed for the popular queen pillow. Two queen-size sham pillows will fit snugly across the width of a queen mattress.

Euro Shams

Euro shams, also known as European or continental shams, measure approximately 26 inches by 26 inches. These fit Euro-style pillows, which are square instead of rectangular. Often, this style is used to place upright directly behind the pillows, giving the bed a more full and luxurious look.

What to Know About Shams

Pillow shams can transform standard bedding into something fresh and exciting. While they are certainly not essential, shams are an inexpensive way to bring life to your bedroom’s design.

Before you purchase pillow shams, there are a few things that will be helpful to know. And when you’re ready to make your purchase, check out our full pillow sham buying guide, complete with reviews and full product details.

What’s the Difference Between a Pillowcase and a Bed Sham?

Put simply, pillowcases are designed for comfort and to protect your pillow, while pillow shams are designed to be aesthetically pleasing.

Another key difference is that pillow cases are identical on both sides, while pillow shams usually have a front and a back. The reverse side of most pillow shams will be plain, solid fabric, and often will have a hidden zipper, buttons, or overlapping fabric to secure the sham.

Bed shams can be used as pillow cases in some situations, although this is not what they are intended for. Most shams have some sort of decorative stitching, lace, or embellishment that may feel uncomfortable against your face. Likewise, many bed shams should not be machine washed, so they are more difficult to keep clean.

Common Materials

Bed shams are made out of a variety of fabrics that are commonly used in the textile industry. Cotton, polyester, and linen are some of the most frequently used.

Cotton – A very common material for bed shams, cotton is generally soft and relatively inexpensive. It’s fairly durable, and is easy to care for. It is typically machine washable, although you should always check the label before laundering.

Polyester – Polyester is a synthetic material commonly used in bedding. It’s a very affordable material, but it can feel scratchy. It’s often used as part of a blend. Because bed shams are decorative, their softness and comfort is not as important, so polyester can still be a good option.

Linen – Linen is a luxury fabric spun from the fibers of the flax plant. It’s prized for its softness and cool feel, even on warm nights. On the other hand, it’s a relatively expensive material, so linen bed shams will typically be more costly.

Flannel – Flannel is derived from cotton, which has been shredded to expose more fibers from the material. It’s cozy, warm, and comforting, and many people prefer it for the cold winter months.

SilkSilk is made from the fibers spun by silkworms. It’s one of the softest materials used in bedding products. It can also be expensive, and requires more delicate care.

Blends – Blends of several different materials are often used to manufacture bedding, including bed shams. Cotton, polyester, lyocell, and other materials are all common additions. Blends are usually versatile and affordable materials to use, and present a good option in many cases.

Normally when choosing bedding, shoppers will want to pay very close attention to the materials used. This is because different textiles have significantly different properties when it comes to feel and comfort. However, when it comes to pillow shams, the choice between materials is less vital, as shams are purely decorative bedding accessories.

With that said, there are still some factors to consider relating to material choices:

  • If you have any known allergies or sensitivities, be sure to check product details closely and avoid any problematic materials
  • If you are concerned about environmental impact, choose natural and sustainable materials such as bamboo, organic cotton, or wool
  • If you would like to regularly launder your bed shams, be sure to choose a material that is machine-washable (generally, this means avoiding lace and other delicate materials)

What Pillows Should I Use With Bed Shams?

The pillows you use with bed shams should directly match the size of the shams you purchased. Fortunately, sizing is standardized, and size names for shams and pillows are used interchangeably.

  • Standard shams measure 26” x 20” and are used for standard pillows
  • Queen shams measure 30” x 20” and are used for queen pillows
  • King shams measure 36” x 20” and are used for king pillows
  • Euro shams measure 26” x 26” and are used for Euro pillows

As for the specific type of pillow you use, it is not particularly important as long as the sizes match up. Because these are purely decorative, it may be prudent to purchase inexpensive pillows to use with your shams.