What Is a Pillow Sham?

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Decorating a new bedroom (or redecorating an old one) can be a lot of work. There are tons of decisions to make, whether you’re choosing a new headboard and bedspread or just picking new accent pillows. If you’re on the hunt for fancy new bedding, you’ve likely come across pillow shams online or in stores.

What exactly is a pillow sham? Shams are decorative pillow covers that can turn any plain pillow into an accent piece. These removable pillow covers come in all different sizes, so they are a great addition to the bed, regardless of what size pillows you already own. Read on below to learn more about pillow shams and how to use them.

What Are Pillow Shams Used For?

Pillow shams (also called bed shams) are decorative covers for pillows. Standard shams are very similar to normal pillowcases, but they open at the back rather than at the side. They are typically used to make standard pillows look more decorative, so they often have textured surfaces or use bright colors. They might also have long or textured flanges (lips) that give them a more embellished look. This makes shams a great option for sprucing up your home decor.

There are a few reasons you might prefer a sham pillow over a decorative throw pillow or plain pillowcase:

  • Unlike most decorative throw pillows, pillow shams can be easily removed and cleaned. You can throw them in the wash with your bed sheets, and avoid spot-cleaning your accent pillows.
  • While everyone has pillows, not everyone has pillow shams. They can add a unique vibe to your bedroom.
  • Purchasing pillow shams is often less expensive than purchasing new throw pillows. This means you can get a few different sets to match different sheet sets or duvet covers. It makes it easy to change out your bed linens with each season. Plus, decorative shams are much easier to store than entire sets of throw pillows.
  • If you prefer a minimalist look but still want to add some style to your bed, you can find plain cotton shams with white texturing or wider flanges. These will add some interest to your bed, but you won’t need to incorporate a range of throw pillows.

How to Use a Pillow Sham

Pillow shams are slipped onto a pillow to give it a decorative look. They are usually placed in front of the sleeping pillows and are often used for support for people who read or use their laptops in bed. They come in several different sizes, so can be used like decorative pillowcases for standard size pillows, or be made to fit the Euro or square pillows you use to spruce up your bedding.

Pillow Sham vs. Pillowcase

Pillow shams are a type of decorative pillowcase. Take a look at the list below to see all their differences.

  • Pillow shams have a false front that adds some texture or design. Most traditional pillowcases are one solid color.
  • Pillow shams open from the back, whereas most pillowcases open from the side.
  • Pillow shams are not usually designed to sleep cool, so they might trap more heat than the average pillow case.

Pillow Sham Size Chart

As we mentioned above, pillow shams come in all different shapes and sizes. They are especially useful when decorating king beds, so it is most common to find them in standard and king sizes when you’re looking for shams to put over sleeping pillows. If you’re looking for shams to fit over throw pillows, it is most common to find them in boudoir and Euro pillow sizes.

Take a look at the chart below to see the dimensions of a few different pillow shams. Keep in mind that Euro and boudoir pillows come in several different sizes. We’ve included the most common dimensions of those shams below.

Pillow Sham Size

Dimensions (inches)











Want more info on pillow sizing? Take a look at our Pillow Size Guide for help.

How to Pick the Right Sham: Style Guides

So, you know you want a sham, but you’re not sure what type to get? We’ve got you covered! Read on below for a few bedroom style tips.

Colors and Patterns

Consider colors and patterns when choosing your shams. They’re a great way to add a pop of color to an existing bedding set without breaking the bank. Livening up your bed pillows can really change the look of your entire room. Plus, since shams are easy to store they can be a great way to update your bedding look with the season without needing a new comforter or coverlet. This can be especially useful if you have a king size bed. King shams don’t take up much space, so switching them out is much easier than changing up your entire bedding set for the summer.

Texture and Layers

Shams also come in a variety of different textures and fabrics. Layering different textures and using different fabrics in your pillow arrangement can create a luxurious look. We recommend experimenting with different fabric textures if you like the look of monochrome bedding. It’s a great way to add some pizzazz without messing up your color scheme.

Interested in a textured pillow arrangement but not sure where to start? Check out our How to Arrange Pillows on a Bed article for help.


How many pillow shams do I need?

It depends on how many pillows you have. If you’re creating a basic arrangement, many sleepers on queen or king size beds use four pillows. In that case, you’ll want two normal pillowcases and two decorative shams. Take a look at our How Many Pillows Should I Sleep With article to learn more about how many pillows you should use based on your sleeping position and bed size.

Do pillow shams go in front or behind?

Most people place pillow shams on the pillows in front of their plain pillows to show off the decoration. But you can choose to present your shams however you want. For instance, Euro pillows are often taller than standard size pillows, so you may want a pair of decorative Euro shams to peek out from behind your regular pillows. 

Do pillow shams come with pillows?

No, most pillow shams do not come with pillows. But certain bedding sets do come with pillow shams. You may also be able to purchase a throw pillow with a removable sham already attached, but it is more common to buy shams separately. 

Do pillow shams have to match the comforter?

Absolutely not! You should style your bedroom in a way that looks good to you. That said, many people enjoy matching pillow shams to their comforters. Many manufacturers sell sets that include flat sheets, fitted sheets, pillow shams, and a comforter or duvet cover.

Can I sleep on a pillow sham?

Yes, pillow shams can be slept on. But because they are decorative, they may not feel as soft or comfortable as a standard pillowcase.

Madison Schaper

Madison is an ex-mattress tester and current law student. When she's not studying, she puts her accumulated mattress and bedding knowledge to good use writing articles for Mattress Clarity. A few of her favorite non-work activities include trying new restaurants, reading short stories, and watching too much reality TV.