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What is a Pillow Sham?

  • by Erika Cellupica
  • 5 min read

This article explains what a pillow sham is and how pillow shams can be an important part of your luxury bedding ensemble.

The Difference Between a Pillow Sham and a Pillowcase

If you've ever wondered what the difference between a pillowcase and pillow sham is, the experts at Fine Linen and Bath are here with the answer.

Pillow Sham Defined

A pillow sham is a special type of pillow cover that turns your regular pillow into a decorative pillow. Pillow shams are finished on all four sides, and typically made to coordinate with your bedspread, duvet cover, bed skirt, or bed sheets.

Unlike your normal pillowcase, which is open on one side, a decorative pillow sham features a flange on all sides with an overlapping fabric opening in the back to insert and completely cover your pillow. 

How to Choose a Pillow Sham

How to Choose a Pillow Sham

In the world of luxury linen, you'll find many options for choosing the perfect pillow sham. Luxury bedding manufacturers such as Matouk, SFERRA, and Yves Delorme typically incorporate pillow shams (as well as duvet covers and bed skirts) into their most popular luxury bedding styles. Even better: They offer decorative shams in different sizes and shapes (including standard pillow sizing):

  • Standard Sham: A standard sham usually measures around 21" x 27" and is made to fit a regular bed pillow in standard size.
  • King Sham: Again, made to fit a sleeping pillow but in a larger “king” size at approximately 21" x 36". Best to cover the width of a king bed. (Note, some luxury bedding brands like Home Treasures also offer a queen sham, but this is less common when a standard sham is available).
  • Euro Sham: This square sham is made to go on a special Euro pillow insert and measures approximately 27" x 27"
  • Boudoir: A boudoir sham measures around 12" x 16" with a rectangular shape.
  • Neckroll: This sham measures about 6" x 16." and is made to fit a cylindrical throw pillow. These are less common and typically found in very high-end bed sheet or comforter collections.

Pillow Shams: Finished with a Decorative Edge

Unlike regular pillowcases, decorative shams are finished with a flange. A flange consists of fabric with a seam allowance ranging from 1/2" to 3" beyond the dimensions of the sham. This creates a large, elegant flourish. Sometimes, two coordinating fabrics are used for the flange. (Note also look for flange edges on three sides of duvet covers). Fine linen manufacturers sometimes detail their flange edges with mitered corners (when two pieces of fabric meet with their joint on an angle). 

Pillow shams can also be finished with a scalloped edge, a flange shaped similarly to the curved line of a shell in a continuous pattern. Timeless and stylish, scalloped borders are often used with matelassé fabric and lend a delicate to look a space. Learn more about the different edge styles for shams and decorative pillows.

The Yves Delorme Toccata shams feature a graceful, hand-embroidered flower that is truly a work of art

How to Style Pillow Shams

The magic of pillow shams is that they turn your normal pillow and accent pillows into stylish throw pillows that add a sense of depth and luxury to your bed. If you ask us, there's really no limit to what you can do with bed sham covered pillows! Even if you are a sleep minimalist (the type of sleeper who loves just a cozy duvet cover on top of a high-quality fitted sheet) pillow shams can be a beautiful part of your (daytime) bedding ensemble.

  1. Elegantly Symmetrical Arrangement: For a classic and balanced look, arrange a pair of standard pillow shams standing upright against your headboard. These shams provide a backdrop for your accent pillows, adding height and symmetry. Opt for shams that match your duvet cover or quilt to create a harmonious aesthetic.
  2. Layering Magic with Euro Shams: Square euro shams add a layer of grandeur to your bedding. Place them behind your standard pillows, either leaning against the headboard or laid flat. Mix and match different patterns and textures for an eye-catching effect.
  3. Central Attraction: Decorative Shams: To infuse a pop of design and texture, introduce one or two decorative shams at the forefront to showcase intricate embroidery or unique fabrics against the backdrop of less elaborate sheeting.
  4. Playful Variations in Size and Shape: Don't shy away from experimenting with different sizes and shapes of pillow shams. Bolster shams, lumbar shams, and even round shams can add a whimsical touch. 
  5. Color Coordination and Contrasts: When choosing pillow shams, consider the color palette of your bedding ensemble. Coordinate with complementary colors or choose shams that provide a contrasting pop. Mixing patterns and textures within a cohesive color scheme can create a visually captivating and inviting bed.

With shams -- and all bedding -- the key to a sumptuous look is layering. Start with your fitted sheet, then add your flat sheet and duvet cover or quilt. Layer on your standard, Euro, and decorative shams in a well-thought-out sequence. Complete the look with throw pillows and a cozy throw blanket folded at the foot of the bed. Click here to learn about the many layers of bedding.

How to Clean Your Pillow Shams

Most pillow shams are made from cotton, linen, or a blend depending on manufacturer and style. Read and follow the care directions scrupulously. If your pillow shams can be washed, we recommend washing all shams and the duvet cover at the same time (not necessarily in the same load) to ensure equal wear. For stains, you can spot clean your cotton shams with a gentle enzyme detergent like Heritage Park All-Purpose Detergent (which we also recommend for regular washing). Click here for our care guidelines for luxury sheets.

A Peek at Our Favorite Pillow Sham Styles

The Fine Linen and Bath design team has a few sham styles that always inspire us. Here are a few of our favorite shams and sham collections:

Eye catching: The bold patterns in the Matouk Schumacher collection, especially Pomegranate and Khilana.

Clean, classic lines: SFERRA Grande Hotel shams are crisp percale reminiscent of the look and feel of five-star hotel bedding.

Biggest variety: Home Treasures is known for versatility in style and design. We love Home Treasures Charleston, which offers shams in Standard, Queen, King, Euro, Boudoir, and Neckroll sizes.

Most indulgent: Check out SFERRA Giza 45 Sateen. Made from Giza cotton, grown in the lush valley of the Nile River and harvested by hand for the ultimate in strength and softness. Learn more about Giza cotton here.

Sweetest scalloped edge: Check out Matouk Classic Chain Scallop Bedding.

Most painterly: We love the Yves Delorme Toccata shams. They feature a graceful, hand-embroidered flower that is truly a work of art.

While these are among our favorite shams, remember that our team is always here to help offer individualized suggestions and recommendations. We’ll even send you complimentary fabric swatch samples to review at home prior to purchase.

Fine Linen and Bath: An In-Store Shopping Experience Delivered to You Online 

At Fine Linen and Bath, our mission is to deliver a concierge luxury linen shopping experience with online convenience. Browse our website to access an expansive collection of bedding, bath, table linens, and accessories from the world's premier brands.

When you need answers, consultation, or help to narrow your choices, our team of expert design consultants is here to assist you. We offer individualized recommendations, personal consultation, and even complimentary swatch samples for your review. We'll help you make the right buying decisions for your style, budget, and design goals.

Please connect with us online or -- even better -- give us a call at (866) 352-4522. We'd love to get to know you!