What Are Pillow Shams? Exploring Their Purpose and Style

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Are you passionate about having a beautifully decorated home and bedroom? Maybe you’re looking for ways to elevate the style in your home. 

If so, then this article is for you!

The secret to having a beautiful home lies in careful attention to detail. In this article, we’ll take a look at one detail in your home you need to take note of: pillow shams. 

You might be thinking pillow shams are the same thing as pillowcases, but we’re here to tell you they’re entirely different! 

We’ll go over exactly what pillow shams are and how to use them to really elevate the design of your home. In this article, we’ll explore:

  • What pillow shams are
  • The different types of pillow shams
  • The function of pillow shams
  • Aesthetic appeal and styling tips
  • Sham vs. pillowcase: understanding the differences
  • Pillow sham size chart and fit
  • Caring for pillow shams

Let’s get started!

What Are Pillow Shams

Defining Pillow Shams

So, what exactly are pillow shams? 

Pillow shams are pillow covers that hold pillows, and are generally used for aesthetic purposes. 

Pillow shams are placed on top of standard sleeping pillows to add design and color to the bed and bedroom. 

As a result, pillow shams are usually not used for sleeping purposes and are removed from the bed before sleep. 

The idea of pillow shams originates from the 1700s when they were first introduced. The term pillow sham comes from the idea of a false pillow; one that is not really a pillow but instead is only used for decorative purposes. 

Types of Pillow Shams

There are several different varieties of pillow shams available to use. The main ones are standard shams, euro shams, and decorative shams. Let’s take a look at each of these in greater detail:

Standard Shams

Standard Shams are used for a standard pillow size of 20” X 26”, which fits an American-shaped pillow. 

These pillows are of rectangular shape. To remove the pillow on standard shams, there is an opening at the back of the sham. 

Standard shams are typically used for decorative purposes, but can also be placed behind the standard pillow when sleeping for extra support or removed when sleeping. Standard shams may come in a large variety of different colors and fabrics. 

Euro Shams

Euro shams are used for a pillow size of 24”x24” or 26”x26” which fits a European-shaped pillow and are slightly larger than standard pillow shams. 

These pillows are of a square shape. To remove the pillow on euro shams, there is usually an opening at the back of the sham. 

Euro shams provide aesthetic purpose but are also great for additional back support when sitting up in bed. Euro shams come in a range of different shades and styles. 

Decorative Shams

Decorative shams may come in a range of shapes and sizes and may have more daring designs and patterns.

These shams add style to the bedroom and are not used for sleeping purposes. Decorative pillow shams may also be used for day beds, or on sofas. 

The Functional Role of Pillow Shams

While it’s clear by now that pillow shams are used for decoration and design purposes, let’s take a look at some other functional purposes they may fulfill! 

While pillow shams are usually removed from the bed when sleeping, some individuals use pillow shams behind their sleeping pillow for additional support. 

Similarly, pillow shams can be great for providing firm support while sitting up in bed reading or watching television. 

In addition, pillow shams effectively protect the pillows residing underneath from becoming dirty over time. 

Aesthetic Appeal and Styling Tips

Aesthetic Appeal Pillows

Now that we’re clear on what pillow shams are used for, how do you know which pillow shams to choose? 

Let’s go through some styling tips on choosing the best pillow shams to enhance your bedroom:

  • First and foremost, make sure you match your pillow sham to your duvet cover and pillowcase. 

Choose a pillow sham that matches the color scheme of your bedroom and duvet, but try a different shade or tone. Therefore, the pillow sham should stand out (but not conflict) with the rest of the bedroom

  • Another tip when styling pillow shams is to use large pillow shams in order to make your bed look fuller. This will create a more luxurious and cozy feel to your bed and bedroom
  • You can also layer multiple pillow shams to create a dramatic effect. Try layering pillow shams with different shades of the same color or color scheme to really elevate the look of your bedroom. 
  • Lastly, if you want to add flair to a space, seek out a statement pillow sham! 

Pillow shams are available in a wide variety of materials, designs, and fabrics, so find something that really stands out to give your bedroom uniqueness! This will also succeed in making your bed the focal point of the room. 

Sham vs. Pillowcase: Understanding the Differences

At this point, let’s take a closer look at the difference between a pillow sham and a standard pillowcase. 

Standard pillowcases are used primarily to protect the pillow lying underneath. This is because these pillows are used for sleeping.

Therefore, the design of the standard pillowcase is of less importance. Standard pillowcases also usually open and close at the side of the case! 

In contrast, pillow shams’ main purpose is for design – so they are usually more colorful and stylish than standard pillowcases. 

These pillow shams are not used for sleeping on, so may also have embellishments that would likely be uncomfortable to sleep on on a standard pillowcase. Pillow shams also most commonly close through an opening at the back of the pillow sham. 

Pillow Sham Size Chart and Fit

To find the perfect fitting pillow sham for your pillow, below are some common pillow sham sizes:

Standard Pillow Sham26” x 20” / 66 cm x 50.8 cm
King Pillow Sham23” x 20” / 91.4 cm x 50.8 cm
Euro Pillow Sham26” x 26” / 66 cm x 66 cm

To find the perfect fitting pillow sham for your pillow, measure your pillow including length and width, ensuring your measuring tape is flat. 

Caring for Pillow Shams

Caring for Pillow Shams 

Once you’ve invested in some beautiful pillow shams, it’s important you take care of them. 

As a general rule of thumb, you should wash pillow shams at least once every month. While you’re typically not sleeping on pillow shams, they will still acquire dust that can build up! 

When it comes to washing and drying the pillow sham, always read the instructions on the label and follow them. This is because pillow shams are made of different fabrics, and each will have their own unique needs. 

If your pillow sham acquires any stains but you don’t want to wash it, a good sponge clean may do the trick. Simply use a sponge and suitable cleaner and work the stain out with circular motions. 

It’s also a good idea to keep pillow shams out of areas of direct sunlight as this may fade the fabric of the pillow sham over time. 

Final Words

As we’ve seen, pillow shams are a great way to add flair and style to your bed and bedroom decor. 

As well as being beautiful to look at, pillow shams also offer a degree of functionality and add support when sitting up reading or watching television in bed. 

They can also be placed behind your sleeping pillow if you’re someone who loves to sleep with multiple pillows. 

Pillow shams also come in a variety of different sizes and shapes, as well as a plethora of different styles. Investing in some pillow shams for your bedroom is bound to elevate the style of your room, and there’s a pillow sham to suit any taste and bedroom!


What are the best materials for pillow shams?

The best materials to use for pillow shams are cotton, silk, satin, and linen. However, there are plenty of more daring and luxurious options too, such as velvet, faux leather, and wool.

Can pillow shams be used on all types of beds?

Yes, pillow shams can be used on all types of beds; single, double, queen, king, and even daybeds.

How often should pillow shams be washed?

Pillow shams should be washed at least once a month. Ensure you follow the label instructions when washing your pillow shams.


Emily Johnstone

Emily is the creator and owner of bestmattressforyou.com. Emily's scientific background gives her an analytical, critical, and discerning eye to bring unbiased, thorough, and helpful content to the site. Your good sleep is her top priority. Find out more about Emily and bestmattressforyou.com here.