What is a Pillow Sham?

If you are an avid linen shopper, you’ve probably come across the term “pillow sham”. For those who are not interior decorators or home stagers, you may not be familiar with the word. However, pillow shams are pillows with false fronts.

You see, the pillow sham originated in the 1700s. They were specially made pillowcases intended for decorations. They had false fronts that were removable, hence the name pillow shams. The fronts were removable so that they could be laundered. This decorative pillow can be used to accent the bed and give it more oomph.

Pillowcase vs Pillow Shams

Pillowcases are designed to protect your pillows against oil, dirt, saliva, germs, bacteria and other nasty stuff. They help to extend the life of your pillow because you don’t need to wash the latter as often when protected. This means that pillowcases were made to be slept on. They are usually made of practical materials like cotton, linen, polyester, wool and other blends. Pillowcases are usually the same sizes as pillows.

As stated above, pillow shams are designed for aesthetics. They are decorative pillows and are not designed to be slept on. Sure, you can use them for support while watching TV or reading a book. However, they might not be as comfortable as your pillows because of the material used or the embellishments. Because of this, they are not as easy to clean. Using them as a pillow is not only uncomfortable but you will also need to wash them more frequently.

Pillow shams come in these sizes:

  • Euro 26″ x 26″
  • King 20″ x 36″
  • Queen 20″ x 30″
  • Standard 20″ x 26″
  • Boudoir 12″ x 16″

Unlike normal pillowcases which are open on one side, pillow shams open at the middle of the back, sometimes with a slightly overlapping fabric, a hidden zipper or buttons. Shams are usually made of fancier materials that can match or complement your duvet. They give you an opportunity to add a pop of colour or to create a harmonious bed design.

Pillow Sham vs Throw Pillow

Throw pillows are usually smaller than typical pillows or pillow shams. Throw pillows are square while shams are rectangular. They are usually used on couches and sofas. However, both serve a decorative purpose.

Choosing Pillow Shams

Nothing says luxury more than a well-made bed with well-arranged pillows and pillow shams. However, many people think that too many pillows and accessories make a bed look crowded. Also, when you’re exhausted, who has time to store away all the extra pillows when all you want to do is hit the hay?

Finding the balance between a comfy sleep and a good-looking bed is easy. Comfort should always come first. If you feel that you don’t need other things on your bed besides your blanket and pillow, then a well-made bed is enough. However, if you like the feeling of sleeping in luxury, then pillow shams are a nice addition.

If a luxurious look is what you’re after, pillow shams made from premium fabric are a good choice. Colour and style are personal choices but the ones you choose should not only complement your bed but should also go with your bedroom. Shabby-looking fabric is a poor choice if you want luxury. However, if your overall bedroom theme is boho or shabby chic, then your pillow sham fabric and design should match it too.

There are many manufacturers of pillow shams. Whatever design you choose, make sure that the pillows remain comfortable even after you’ve put on the fabric. Some pillow shams have embellishments like buttons, sequins and embroidery, making them uncomfortable. Try to minimise these embellishments so that your pillows remain useful aside from being decorative.

The downside to embellished pillow shams is that they are harder to maintain and launder. Your bedding and accessories will need regular washing. Embellishments might come off when washed in a machine, so special care like dry-cleaning or hand-washing might be needed.

Arranging Pillow Shams

Depending on your bed size, you may need more than a couple of pillow shams to make your bedroom look luxurious. Aside from a decorative purpose, pillow shams can hide imperfections and even protect the actual pillows you sleep on by shielding them from dirt.

Many designers like to stack pillow shams and pillows for a layered look. They prefer to have larger pillows at the back to serve as a foundation and end with shams at the front. It all depends on your personal taste.

As a rule of thumb, euro shams are placed in front of the headboard in a standing position. Next, the king- or queen-sized pillows, and then pillow shams are arranged in a slightly inclined position towards the headboard. You can scatter the boudoir across the bed. Remember pillow shams are decorative in purpose, so you don’t have to strictly follow rules. You can just go with what looks good for you.

If you want a fully decked bed, you can add pillows for lumbar support, neck rolls, bolsters and squares. Just remember that the more pillows you have, the longer it will take for you to recreate the look every morning when you make your bed.

Inserts for Pillow Shams

Remember, shams are just decorative coverings so you need inserts for them. Just like pillows, inserts come with different filling materials. Luxurious down inserts are a comfortable choice compared to polyester or synthetic ones. You might be tempted to fill your shams with old pillows you no longer use. Resist this urge because old pillows are not only unsupportive, but they are also floppy and will make your shams look deflated. So much for a luxurious look!


Pillow shams offer you the opportunity to dress up your bedroom by adding colour to your bed. They also make your bed look beautiful and well-made – just like in a 5-star hotel. If this is the look you prefer, then making the bed every morning is worth the effort of choosing pillow shams.

By using this site, you accept our use of cookies.