bed sham on mattress
Bedroom Design

What is a Bed Sham?

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    Last Updated
    December 6, 2022
    min read

    Bed shams, sometimes referred to as pillow shams, are pillow covers used to create decorative pillows. You can use them to complement your regular pillow set and often come in different sizes, such as a Euro sham or a king sham.

    But what is a sham for a bed, exactly? How do you define “sham”? What is a Euro sham for a bed compared to a standard sham?

    These are the types of questions that pop up when you’re shopping for new bedding. Luckily, we have all the answers. Keep reading to find out if a bed sham is what’s been missing from your life – and your bed!

    The History Of Bed Shams

    The history of bed shams starts in the 1700s. It was first used by nobles and rich citizens to decorate their bed chambers with a touch of class. Bed shams were originally designed as removable decorative covers for pillows, which is why there were also called “false front” pillow covers.

    Eventually, the “false front” decorative pillowcases came to be known as pillow shams, and they were widely adopted around the world. Today, pillows covered in shams are typically used as a support for sitting on the bed or purely as decoration, especially when paired with a matching bed cover.

    What Is A Bed Sham?

    Bed shams are decorative covers for your pillows. Pillows with shams are usually kept on top of your bed and aren’t used for sleeping. They usually sit behind your main pillows or on top of them.

    The sham is a pillow cover (similar to a pillowcase) with a slit in the back instead of on the side. It often has a flap of fabric to cover the slit as well.

    Shams make your bed look fancier, cozier, and less “flat”. They add dimension to your bed while making it look comfier.

    What Is The Purpose Of A Bed Sham?

    The purpose of a bed sham is to make your bed look a little more lively and interesting. Bed shams are commonly used by homeowners to establish a consistent theme for their bedroom or improve its visual effect. 

    These bedding accessories are a bit fancier than regular pillowcases, but they can really tie a bedroom together. You’ll get the most mileage out of bed shams if you put them on a bed that doesn’t get heavy use. For example, if you want to impress a house guest, you may want to decorate your guest room with a matching bed sham and duvet set.

    Of course, you can also use bed shams on your own bed. And despite them being “decorative”, you can use a bed sham like a regular pillowcase, especially if you buy one made of quality materials.

    What's The Best Material For A Sham?

    The best material for a bed sham is determined by your personal taste and bed cover material preferences. Bed shams can be made from any of the wide selection of fabrics on the market – here are some of the best options for bed sham materials:


    Polyester is a synthetic fabric that is often used in budget bedding. Because of polyester’s artificial nature, bed shams made of polyester can feel quite scratchy. Since bed shams are meant to be decorative, the comfort and softness of the material aren’t as important, making polyester a good, affordable option.

    Polyester can also come as part of a fabric blend, which is a bit softer and more comfortable than a pure polyester bed sham.


    Cotton is one of the most common fabrics used in bed covers. Soft and warm, cotton is a relatively inexpensive option for your bed shams due to its wide availability. Cotton bed shams are also very durable and easy to maintain.

    Most cotton bed shams are machine-washable, though it’s a good idea to check the label first before you put them in the wash.


    Flannel is a type of material that is known for being particularly cozy and warm. Flannel bed shams are made from cotton that was shredded to create finer, shorter fibers.

    Flannel bed shams are great for keeping your bed warm during cooler seasons, which is why some people prefer cuddling a bed sham made of flannel during the winter months.


    If you’re looking for a soft, cool bed sham to coat your pillows in, linen is, by far, one of the better options. Linen is a premium fabric that is known for helping your body thermoregulate – it keeps you cool on warm nights while trapping your body heat on colder nights.

    Linen is made by spinning the fibers of the flax plant and can be expensive to manufacture, so it comes at a relatively high price compared to other bed sham options. But while linen bed shams may be a tad more expensive, they’re also durable – potentially lasting decades if well-maintained and looked-after.


    One of the most expensive materials you can choose, silk is made from fibers collected from silkworms. Silk bed shams are prized for their soft, silky feel, and they are very sensitive to wear and tear.

    If you buy a silk bed sham, be prepared to take good care of it, as its softness will only last if you follow the specific care instructions that come with it. You can't just toss silk shams into the washing machine – you generally need to gently hand wash your silk bed shams. Also, avoid exposing them to direct sunlight or alcohol-based products like perfume.


    Fabric blends can be made of a variety of fabrics mixed together, making for a very versatile material for bedding. You can find blends that include polyester, cotton, lyocell, and wool, with each combination having vastly different properties.

    Bed shams made of fabric blends are generally multi-purpose and relatively inexpensive. They are also usually softer than a pure polyester bed sham.


    If you’re more concerned about the environmental impact of your bedding, bed shams made of bamboo fiber can be a good option. Bamboo fiber is a sustainable material that is relatively common, and bamboo bed shams tend to be more durable and resistant to wear than cotton.

    Bamboo fabric is known to be soft and breathable, making it a popular choice for bedding in tropical weather or during hotter months.


    Wool is one of the coziest, warmest fabrics you can make beddings out of. Bed shams made of wool tend to be thick and durable, retaining heat during cold nights. What’s more, wool is sustainably harvested from sheep – shearing a sheep helps it regulate and maintain its wool coat.

    Wool can also be found in many fabric blends, lending a soft, cozy feel to any bed sham. An organic cotton and wool blend feels like a premium bed sham while also being sustainable and environmentally friendly.


    Lace is typically used in bed shams as the flange edges on the sides, though you can find bed shams fully made with lace. Lace bed shams are extremely delicate and very sensitive to wear and tear. Because of their delicate nature, lace bed shams tend to be elegantly shaped and embroidered but are usually very expensive.

    A silk bed sham with lace edges is a luxury item that should be taken care of very well. Wash lace bed shams very gently and infrequently to preserve their elegant texture.

    Where Do You Put A Pillow Sham?

    Normally, you put a pillow sham or bed sham behind your regular pillows or on top of your duvet. You can put shams in front of your pillows or arrange them around your normal pillows as well. Your headboard should complement your pillow shams and make them stand out.

    For larger beds, two king shams or queen shams behind each sleeping pillow make the bed look tidy and comfortable. Choose the best pillow for your needs, whether it’s a king pillow or queen size, or something in between.

    What Does A Pillow Sham Look Like?

    Pillow shams have slits in the back instead of on the side, and often have a decorative two-inch flange around the outside. Textured fabric, such as sateen, percale, and satin, is common.

    Euro shams go on square pillows, whereas standard-size, queen-size, and king shams are the same dimensions as their respective pillows.

    Pillow shams usually have a higher thread count, and the threads are often visible depending on the complexity of the stitching. Beads or other ornamentations are sometimes present.

    Here’s a good way to identify a sham: If it looks like a fancy pillow (but not a comfortable one for your head) it’s probably a pillow sham. Although, there are comfy shams for those that like to sleep on them.

    5 Types of Bed Shams

    Standard Bed Sham (26” x 20”)

    A standard sham fits a standard-size pillow (26″ x 20″). Standard is the size of the average pillow you put your head on in bed. So, if you have some extra bed pillows lying around, putting a sham on them is a great way to add a bit of pizzazz to your bedroom.

    You can put standard shams on any size bed, but the number of shams that look good on your bed depends on the bed’s size. For example, with a king bed, you would want at least three or four shams. On a full-size bed, two or three shams will do.

    Next, you need to choose your sham and pillow sizes. Think of standard pillow shams as being the base (or center), of your bed sham set. Three standard shams, two king shams, and a couple of accent pillows are a nice balanced mix.

    Three standard shams are perfect for a queen size bed. Though you could add a few throw pillows into the mix. Two shams are plenty for setting a twin bed sham.

    Queen Bed Sham (30” x 20”)

    A queen sham fits a queen-size pillow (30″ x 20″). They measure four inches longer than the standard sham and six inches shorter than the king-size sham. It’s a middle ground between the standard sham and the king sham.

    Two queen shams and a few accent pillows look great on a queen size bed. Add a third if you have a king bed or cal king.

    For an extra dose of elegance on your queen bed, use two or three accent pillows or boudoir pillows with a couple of Euro shams.

    A single queen sham can make a twin bed more pleasing to the eye. Plus, it’s handy to lean on (or hug to align your spine if you’re a side sleeper).

    King Bed Sham (36” x 20”)

    A king sham fits a king-size pillow (36″ x 20″). They are great if you want to make your bed look really full or if you just love big pillows. These pillow shams would typically provide a backdrop for many smaller shams, decorative pillows, or stuffed animals.

    Two king shams are plenty for a king-size bed. Two king shams combined with three standard pillows or three Euro shams create a balanced look. Add a couple of smaller pillows to the mix and you have a beautiful bed set.

    On its own, a king bed sham may look a bit strange, but if you’re a minimalist, two king shams or queen shams behind each sleeping pillow look tidy and nice. Toss a few small accent pillows in front to round out the look.

    Euro Bed Sham (26” x 26”)

    A Euro sham fits a Euro-size pillow (26″ x 26″). As the only square-shaped pillow sham, a Euro sham is the most unique of the bunch.

    Three European shams on a queen or king-size bed can help to make your bed look larger. Mix and match with other shams to create a dimensional perspective.

    Euro shams are quite versatile and can be used in a variety of arrangements. A trio of European shams across a wooden headboard is a traditional look with satisfying symmetry. Try propping your normal pillows up in front of them. The different shape of the Euro sham makes the scene pop!

    If your bed is big enough, buy all five types of bed shams and arrange them incrementally from large to small for a playful vibe.

    Boudoir Bed Sham (12” x 16”)

    A boudoir sham fits a boudoir-size pillow (12″ x 16″). These are the shams you use to tie the ensemble together. They’re like little brush strokes on a painting that’s almost finished.

    Need a little more color on the left? Add a boudoir sham. Need to fill out the center of your ensemble? Boudoir shams can help.

    If you’re having a pillow fight, boudoir pillows also make the best projectiles, so it’s always a good idea to keep a few on hand.

    These tiny shams are good for flair or if you want a really artistic or experimental look. Boudoir pillow shams are often quite fancy because they are mainly used as decorative pillows.

    For a more rustic take, adding a couple of boudoir pillow shams in front of each normal pillowcase can make all the difference.

    What’s The Difference Between A Bed Sham And A Pillowcase?

    The main difference between a bed sham and a pillowcase is that a bed sham is meant to serve decorative purposes, a pillowcase is meant to sleep on. 

     Another key differences is a bed sham has an opening in the middle of the back instead of on the side, like a normal pillowcase. Pillowcases are usually made of simple, breathable fabric like cotton, while shams are made of a variety of materials, such as sateen, satin, and percale.

    Shams are often flanged or corded on the sides, which can make them uncomfortable to use as sleeping pillows. Most sham pillows are washable, though shams with more sensitive material must be washed delicately.

    Shams often sit on top of the bed, while pillows with pillowcases go under your comforter and sheets. Shams are commonly removed from the bed before sleeping.

    What Type Of Pillows To Use With Bed Shams

    The type of pillows you use with bed shams depends on the size of the bed shams that you purchase. Ideally, you should purchase bed shams that are compatible with the size of pillows you already have. 

    Bed shams have standardized sizing, and the size names for bed shams and pillows can be used interchangeably.

    • Standard pillows fit in standard bed shams, measuring 26” by 20”.
    • Euro pillows fit in Euro bed shams, measuring 26” by 26”.
    • Queen pillows fit in queen bed shams, measuring 30” by 20”.
    • King pillows fit in king bed shams, measuring 36” by 20”.
    • Boudoir pillows fit in boudoir bed shams, measuring 16” by 12”.

    You don’t need a specific type of pillow to put a bed sham on, as long as it matches the size of the bed sham. Since bed shams are typically used for decoration and not support, you might want to fill them with a relatively inexpensive pillow to get the most value from your sham.

    How To Style Bed Shams

    If you’re wondering how to style bed shams, there’s no right or wrong answer. Your own personal taste is the most important factor in styling the shams and pillows on your bed. 

    Here are a few tips you may find useful for styling your first sham arrangement:

    Coordinate Your Bed Shams And Other Bedding

    Duvet covers and bed shams are usually sold in matching pairs, making it easy to coordinate their styles. It’s usually a good idea to have your bed sham made of the same material as your duvet cover and pillowcases, as this creates a more streamlined and unified look.

    The design and color scheme can be as simple or as complex as you want, as long as the colors and designs complement each other. You can also contrast the colors between your duvet and bed shams to make your bed setting more visually interesting. 

    Be Mindful Of Your Mattress And Headboard Size

    The size of your mattress dictates how many bed shams you can have comfortably on the bed. In general, the bigger the mattress, the more ornate and complex you can get with your bed sham arrangement. 

    Try experimenting with different mattress sizes to get the perfect canvas for your bed sham arrangement. 

    You should also take your headboard into consideration before planning out your bed sham spread. If the top of your headboard is at least two feet above the mattress, you’ll have ample room for your decorative bed shams. If the headboard is under two feet, be careful not to stack the pillows too high.

    Experiment With Different Bed Sham Sizes And Arrangements

    Can’t settle on one way to make your bed? That’s okay – you can experiment with your bed sham arrangement. The best part of arranging your own bed shams is that you can try different pillow sizes and bed shams until you find the perfect arrangement for your taste.

    If you already have a couple of designs in mind, purchase the pillows and a few different bed shams to see if they look good. Spend some time trying the different combinations until you find the bed sham arrangement that you love.

    Here are a few of the best ways to arrange your bed shams:

    Stacked Bed Shams

    One of the most common ways to arrange bed shams, stacking is used in many hotels and homes throughout the world because of its simple yet elegant aesthetic. Stacking bed shams works best when your regular pillows and sham pillows are traditional pillow sizes, as it makes your pillows look clean and uniform.

    First, place your regular pillows on the bed, flush with the headboard and with the cuffs pointed to the edges of the bed. Then, carefully lay your bed sham-covered pillows flat on top of the regular pillows. For extra style points, lean smaller accent pillows against the pillow stack.

    Layered Bed Shams

    If you have an assortment of bed shams and decorative pillows in different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures, layering your pillows can be the best way to show them off. This style works especially well when you have bed shams made of luxurious fabrics.


    To get that classy layered look, lean your regular sleeping pillows upright against the headboard. Then, lean two Euro-size pillows with nice bed shams against the regular pillows. Add a couple of king-size or queen-size shams in front of the square-shaped shams.

    Asymmetrical Bed Shams

    If you’re going for a more whimsical or organic look, you may want to “break the rules” and try asymmetrical styling. Styling your bed shams asymmetrically works best when you have different sizes of pillows in similar fabrics and colors.

    To achieve this modern asymmetrical look, prop your regular sleeping pillows up against your headboard. Then, simply arrange your bed shams as if you were layering them, but keep smaller pillows on one side of the bed, and larger pillows on the other side. If possible, get one of each pillow size to achieve a truly asymmetrical arrangement.

    Do I Need To Use A Bed Sham?

    You need to use a bed sham if you want your bed to look fuller and fancier. Shams make your bed look stylish and inviting. They are a great way to turn a few extra pillows into bedroom décor.

    Key Takeaways

    Bed shams are an amazing way to bring a little bit of artistic flair and creativity to your bedroom. The bedroom’s aesthetic centers around the bed, and adding bed shams to your bedspread can make your sleeping place look a bit more lively, cozy, and a lot less “flat”.

    If you want your bed to reflect your personal sense of style, your bed sham arrangement should be on point. Bed shams add depth, color, and contrast to any bedding set. If your bed looks good, you can bet it’ll feel just as good to sleep in it!

    Bed Sham FAQs

    Is a sham a pillow or cover?

    A sham is a type of pillow covering. Bed shams often have an opening in the middle of the back of the case, which is usually buttoned up or zippered shut. Bed shams used to be called “false front” covers and have been around since the 18th century.

    Is a sham just a pillowcase?

    A sham is not just a pillowcase – it’s a type of pillow covering specifically used for decorative purposes. Pillowcases are primarily meant to be slept on, tend to match the bed covers, and are simpler in style than bed shams. Bed shams are typically not meant to be heavily used or slept on – instead, they are used to add aesthetic value to a made bed.

    What are bed shams used for?

    Bed shams are used for decorating your bedspread. Bed shams are put on your pillows to add more texture and color to your bed’s aesthetic. Bed shams can tie a bedroom together, especially if you’re coordinating the bed sham’s design with the rest of your bedding.


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