What Is a Pillow Sham?

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In the realm of home decor, there are a myriad of elements that contribute to the overall aesthetics of a room. One often overlooked piece of this puzzle is the humble pillow sham. You might have come across this term while shopping for bedding or browsing through interior design inspiration and wondered, “What exactly is a pillow sham, and why do I need one?”

In this article, I’ll demystify the world of pillow shams. I’ll explore their purpose, versatility and more. 

What Are Pillow Shams Used For?

If you are interested in creating a stylish and comfortable sleeping environment, then a pillow sham could be the missing component. Here’s exactly what pillow shams can do for your sleeping experience. 

Enhance Style 

A pillow sham can enhance the personal style of a room. Whether you choose to improve the look and feel of your bed with intricate patterns or vibrant colors, pillow shams add an extra boost of personality. It’s just one way you can help create the perfect sleep environment


Depending on the pillow sham’s material, it can create a softer and more comfortable sleeping experience. 

Seasonal Decor 

You can add a seasonal touch to your bed by changing out your pillow shams throughout the year. This allows you to keep your decor fresh without having to change up your entire bed. 

Pillow Sham vs. Pillowcase

The key difference between a pillow sham and a pillowcase lies in their primary functions and decorative purposes. A pillowcase is primarily designed as a protective covering for your pillow. Its main role is to shield the pillow from dirt, oils and moisture while providing a comfortable surface for you to rest your head on. Pillowcases are usually simple in design, with one open end for easy insertion and removal of the pillow.

eli elm side sleeper pillow pillowcase
A pillowcase on a bed

On the other hand, a pillow sham is more decorative than functional. While it can also protect your pillow to some extent, its primary purpose is to add a layer of style and elegance to your bedding ensemble. Pillow shams are often used as decorative accents, featuring intricate patterns, embellishments and an envelope-style closure that conceals the pillow inside. 

They are typically larger than pillowcases, meant to cover the entire pillow, and can be coordinated with the overall bedroom decor. So while both serve a protective function, pillow shams are the go-to choice when you want to elevate the aesthetics of your bed.

Pillow Sham Size Chart

Pillow shams come in four main sizes: 

Standard20″ x 26″
Queen20″ x 30″
King20″ x 36″
Euro27″ x 27″

How to Pick the Right Sham: Style Guides

There are a couple of factors you should take into consideration when picking your pillow sham. Including the colors, patterns, textures and layers. 

Colors and Patterns

When selecting the color and pattern of a pillow sham for your bed, several considerations come into play. First, think about the existing color scheme of your room. 

Choose a sham color that complements or contrasts with your bedspread, sheets and overall decor palette. Consider the mood you want to create; serene and calming shades like pastels can promote relaxation, while bold, vibrant colors can add energy and personality. 

Additionally, take the size of your bed into account–larger beds may benefit from bolder patterns and colors, while smaller beds may need more subtle designs to avoid overwhelming the space. 

Bed with blankets and pillows with pillow shams

Consider the style you’re aiming for, whether it’s classic, modern, bohemian or something else entirely. Your choice of patterns, from traditional florals to contemporary geometrics, should align with your preferred aesthetic. 

Finally, remember that balance is key–if your bedspread is highly patterned, opt for a solid-colored sham. By carefully weighing these factors, you can choose a pillow sham that not only enhances your bed’s comfort but also contributes to a cohesive and visually pleasing bedroom ambiance.

Texture and Layers

When it comes to selecting the textures and layers of pillow shams for your bed, it’s essential to think about both comfort and aesthetics. Start by considering the overall experience you want to create. For a cozy and inviting bed, choose pillow shams with soft and gentle textures like velvet, silk or cotton sateen. 

These materials not only feel luxurious but also add a sense of comfort to your sleeping space. Additionally, think about the season and climate–lightweight and breathable fabrics like linen are ideal for summer, while plush and velvety shams provide warmth during the colder months.

Mixing materials such silk and faux fur can create a visually dynamic and inviting look. Don’t forget to coordinate the colors and patterns to ensure a harmonious blend. 

How to Style a Pillow Sham

The way you style your pillow shams can ultimately make or break the design layout and aesthetic appeal of your bedroom. Try stacking, layering or using them asymmetrically to find what works for your room. 


Stacking your pillow shams on top of one another is a simple yet effective way to create a clean and streamlined bed. Start by placing your standard pillows as the foundation against the headboard. Then, neatly stack your decorative pillow shams one on top of the other in descending order of size, with the largest at the bottom and the smallest at the top.


Begin with your standard pillowcases as the base layer and position them against the headboard. Then, add a layer of Euro shams, which are square and typically larger, in front of the standard pillows. 

On top of the Euro shams, place your decorative pillow shams. When layering, consider a mix of textures, colors and patterns that complement your bedding and room decor. Arrange the shams with the largest ones at the back and the smaller ones in front to create a cascading effect. You can also experiment with different pillow sizes and shapes for added visual interest.


Styling your pillow shams asymmetrically is a creative approach to lend a dynamic and unique touch to your bed. To achieve this look, start with your standard pillows against the headboard. Then, place your pillow shams in an asymmetrical arrangement, intentionally varying their sizes, colors and patterns. 

Offset them to one side, allowing some to overlap or even hang partially off the bed for an artful effect. This styling method adds an element of visual intrigue and spontaneity to your bedding ensemble. 

How to Care for Pillow Shams 

You should try to wash your pillow shams when you wash your duvet every one to two weeks. They can be thrown in the wash with your duvet unless they are textured, beaded or have other intricate detailing. 

Down Alternative Comforter - Washing And Drying

If they do have intricate detailing, it is likely you are not actually sleeping on them, so less frequent washing is required. When you do wash them, it’s best to do it by hand and leave them to dry naturally before placing them back on your pillow.  


Are pillow shams meant to be slept on?

Whether or not your pillow sham is meant to be slept on will depend on its decorative nature. If your pillow sham has intricate detailing, textures or beadwork, it is likely not meant to be slept on.

How many pillow shams do I need?

While you don’t need pillow shams, they are nice to have for decorative purposes. Most queen size beds look best with two or more Euro pillow shams, while king size beds look best with three or more Euro pillow shams.

What is the difference between a sham and a pillowcase? 

Pillowcases are there to protect your pillow from getting dirty, while pillow shams make your pillows look a little more decorative and stylish.

Do pillow shams go in front or behind?

How you style your pillows is completely up to you, but one of the most popular ways is to stack your sleeping pillow behind, and your pillow shams in front. This way you show off your more decorative pillows.

Do pillow shams come with pillows?

No, pillow shams are created to be put on regular pillows. This is what sets them apart from decorative throw pillows.

Tyla Oliver

Tyla Oliver is a passionate SEO content writer. In her free time, she enjoys reading, mountain climbing and sky diving.