What is a Pillow Sham?

A pillow sham doesn’t act like a real pillow you’d sleep on. While your typical pillowcase is considered functional, a pillow sham is fashionable. In other words, a pillow sham is a decorative option you can use to design a luxurious sleep space that’s visually appealing. The fact that a pillow sham is only meant to be visually appealing is easy to understand when you look at sham’s definition: false, bogus, something that isn’t what it appears to be. 

To visually lift a space, you have a wide variety of bed pillow shams to choose from. Available in diverse colors and patterns, shams are sometimes sold in a matched set along with a bed covering such as a comforter, bedspread or duvet cover. You may also choose shams sold separately from your bedding but in a coordinating color that matches your bedroom’s overall design. Decorative pillow shams may also include extra flourishes such as trims or embroidery. 

Sham vs. Pillowcase: What’s the Difference?

Shams and pillowcases may look alike at first glance, but there are some notable distinctions. Perhaps the biggest difference is the role each one plays in your bedding collection. You sleep on a pillowcase, and it protects the pillow from becoming soiled or dirty. While you can sleep on a pillow sham, it may not be as practical (or as comfortable, depending on the fabric and any decorative elements) as a pillowcase. 

You also put a pillowcase on differently than a pillow sham. An opening at one end of the pillowcase makes it easy to slide over a pillow. That slit in the fabric stays open because pillowcases don’t have closures. Shams, however, typically have an opening in the back. Once the pillow is slipped in, the sham’s opening can be closed with buttons or other fasteners. 

A flange is another telltale sign that you have a pillow sham and not a pillowcase. A flange is like a frame around the sham, a fabric border that offers crisp definition. Pillowcases can't have a flange because of that opening on one end of the case.

Finally, pillowcases often come with sheet sets, so they tend to match your other bedding. They can be plain or have subtle decorations. Shams, as mentioned before, come in a broader range of materials, colors and stylistic touches, and they can be sold in sets with bed covers or on their own. 

What Size Is a Pillow Sham?

Pillow shams usually come in three different sizes:

  • Standard (20” x 26” pillows)
  • King (20” x 36” pillows)
  • Euro (26” x 26” pillows)

Choosing a size is a matter of personal preference. You may already have pillows and just need shams that fit them. Another option is to choose shams, either larger or smaller in size than your sleeping pillows, depending on the look you want to achieve. Or create a grouping of pillow shams in various sizes for a unique style. 

How to Use Pillow Shams

It’s important to put some thought into how you place your pillow shams on your bed. Too many pillows, or clashing patterns or colors, make for a messy, haphazard look. 

A foolproof design style is to add two matching shams, both in the same size, to your bed. When making the bed, stack the pillow shams on top of your regular pillows. Alternatively, you can lean the pillow shams against your headboard and then place the sleeping pillows in front of them, or vice versa. If your regular pillows are smaller than your shams, place them in the back if you want to hide them with the shams completely. Putting the smaller pillows in the front, on the other hand, creates an interesting visual dynamic.

Once you have two pillow shams, you can add a third in a different size and complementary color. (This is also a great way to follow the “rule of three” interior designers often follow when creating groupings of objects in a room.) Want more symmetry? Buy a fourth pillow sham that matches the third. Now you have two sets of pillow shams, and you can position one from each set on each side of the bed.

If you love the opulent look created by multiple pillows, use two or three shams to start. Then add different types of decorative pillows, such as bolsters, boudoirs or bedrolls. Play around with different options to find the one that’s most pleasing to you. Just remember when creating larger groupings to stick to a tight color palette (no more than two to three hues), vary the sizes and shapes, and scale the pillows to your bed to avoid visually overwhelming the space. 



Find Beautiful Pillow Shams at Elegant Strand

Complete your bedding set with our decorative pillow shams. We’ve created a collection that coordinates with all our luxury sheet sets. The shams boast the same impeccable craftsmanship and 100% extra long, extra fine combed cotton that are hallmarks of our bedding. These pillow shams also feature high-end design details such as precisely mitered flanges and mother-of-pearl button closures. 

For another option, explore our selection of quilted shams. They’re designed to be paired with our quilted coverlets and come in a palette of soothing neutrals and sophisticated colors.

Discover the beauty of our bedding collections. You’ll see that, when it comes to refined style and elegant design, pillow shams are the real thing.