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What is a Bed Sham?

Lauren Fountain

Written by

Lauren Fountain, Certified Sleep Coach

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We regularly assess how the content in this article aligns with current scientific literature and expert recommendations in order to provide the most up-to-date research.

A bed sham is a decorative pillowcase that is used to add some aesthetic variety to the bedroom. Typically, bed shams are used on decorative pillows that are removed from the bed at night.

Bed shams may also be called pillow shams. 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 that match the corresponding pillow size.

Because they are designed purely for decorative use, bed shams are typically only embellished on the front side, while the back is made with solid fabric. Most bed shams are fastened at the back of the pillow using 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 modern, intricate designs, you can find just about any style of bed sham to fit your decorating preferences.

Because shams generally decorate pillows that are not actually used for sleeping, most people opt to use relatively inexpensive pillows with their decorative bed shams. However, these pillows will probably have to be purchased separately since bed shams don’t generally come with pillows. That said, bed shams do tend to match the standard four pillow sizes, which makes them fairly easy to find.

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. However, some people may prefer to use a single decorative king sham pillow on a smaller bed, such as a queen or a full.

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.

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 queen bed.

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. This style of bed sham can be used with pillows placed upright directly behind the pillows you sleep on, giving the bed a fuller and more 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 additional things that will be helpful to know.

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

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

Another key difference is that pillowcases 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. It will also often have a hidden zipper, buttons, or overlapping fabric to secure the sham.

Bed shams can be used as pillowcases 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 to lie on. 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, but there are other options as well.

Cotton: Cotton is generally soft and relatively inexpensive. It’s also durable and easy to care for. Cotton is typically machine-washable, although you should always check the label before laundering.

Polyester: This synthetic material commonly is often used in bedding. Bed shams made of polyester tend to be quite affordable, but they can feel scratchy. Because of this, polyester often comes as part of a blend. Since 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 is prized for its softness and cool feel, even on warm nights. However, it’s a relatively expensive material, so linen bed shams will typically be more costly.

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

Silk: Made from fibers spun by silkworms, silk is one of the softest materials used in bedding products. However, it can also be expensive, and it requires more delicate care.

Blends: Blends of several different materials are often used to manufacture bedding, including bed shams. Cotton, polyester, and lyocell are all common. Blends are usually versatile and affordable, making them good options in many cases.

When choosing bedding, shoppers will normally 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. With pillow shams, however, the choice between materials is less vital, as shams are purely decorative bedding accessories.

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 for anything that might cause aggravating symptoms.
  • 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 Be Used With Bed Shams?

The pillows you use with bed shams should match the size of the shams you purchased. Fortunately, sham 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’s not particularly important as long as the sizes match up. Because they will be purely decorative, it may be a good idea to purchase inexpensive pillows to use with your shams.

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About Our Editorial Team

author
Lauren Fountain

Certified Sleep Coach

Lauren is a Certified Sleep Science Coach with extensive experience researching and testing a wide variety of sleep products.

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