What Is a Bed Sham?

Last Updated On January 31st, 2024
What Is a Bed Sham?

Key Takeaways

  • Decorative Elegance: Bed shams are decorative pillowcases designed to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your bedroom. They add style, color, and texture to your bed, making it look more inviting and elegant.
  • Variety of Sizes: Bed shams come in various sizes, including standard, queen, king, Euro, and boudoir shams. Choose the size that matches your pillow inserts and bed to achieve the desired look.
  • Decorative vs. Functional: Unlike regular pillowcases, bed shams prioritize decoration over function. They may not be as comfortable to sleep on due to their decorative features, such as sequins or buttons, but they serve as beautiful accents for your bed.

Bed shams are decorative pillowcases that add style and elegance to your bedroom. Though they are called bed shams, they are actually used to cover your pillows. Many bedding sets include shams that are color-coordinated to match the duvet covers or comforters.

In this article, we’ll go over why you should use a bed sham, the most popular types of shams, and the differences between pillowcases and shams. This should help you decide if buying bed shams is right for you.

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Why Do We Use Bed Shams?

We generally use bed shams purely for decorative purposes. The term bed “sham” describes pillowcases with a false front, so they make your pillows look like a decorative piece. They are often used on king or queen mattresses, which are large enough for extra pillows that aren’t strictly for sleeping.

With interesting designs and patterns on the front, shams add a pop of color, texture, and depth to your bedroom. You can even complete the sensation experience with a pillow spray for a pleasant smell.

Shams are available in different styles and patterns to suit your bedroom decor. You’ll find them with lace, applique work, sequins, decorative ties, or buttons.

What is a Bed Sham?

Since certain shams are accessorized, you may not want to rest on one in bed. If you are using a mattress for sitting up in bed to read or work, use a bed sham for back support. Most people generally remove the sham covered pillows from the bed before sleeping and put them back in the morning when they make the bed.

Bed shams are sold as standalone pieces or included as part of a bedding set. Before buying the best pillow sham for yourself, check the size of the pillow you intend to use with the sham.

Bed Sham Sizes

Like pillowcase sizes, bed shams are compatible with standard pillow sizes, so you’ll find standard shams, queen shams, and king shams. Use them with size-compatible mattresses or mix and matched together for a unique look.

Standard Sham

Dimensions: 26 inches by 20 inches

Standard pillow shams are one of the most common sizes on the market, so you’ll find many varieties in this size. They are meant for the smaller bed pillows, generally used with twin, twin XL, or full size beds.

Queen Sham

Dimensions: 30 inches by 20 inches

Queen shams are 4 inches longer than the standard shams and they may not be as easily available as the standard shams. Due to this difference in size, even queen size pillows are not as widely available as the standard size pillows, so people often use two standard pillows on a queen size bed.

King Sham

Dimensions: 36 inches by 20 inches

King shams are 10 inches longer than standard shams and are available in bedding stores and online. You need two king size pillow inserts with shams to complete the look of your Cal king or king size bed.

However if you have a split king vs traditional king bed, you may want to consider shams that aren’t so uniform.

Euro Sham

Dimensions: 26 inches by 26 inches

These square-shaped shams are used with Euro pillows, not to be confused with Euro pillow top mattresses. They offer extra support when sitting in bed or on a couch. Since Euro pillows can be used in your bedroom as well as the living room, choose a sham with a universal appeal so they suit the decor in both the rooms.

Boudoir Sham

Dimensions: 12 inches by 16 inches

Boudoir shams are used with small, rectangular, decorative pillows. Most boudoir pillows are sold with shams, but buying separate boudoir shams gives you the freedom to change up the look for your bedroom once in a while.

Bed Shams vs. Pillowcases

Both pillowcases and bed shams are pillow covers, but they look and feel different. While regular pillowcases are simple and comfortable, pillow shams are made with luxurious fabrics and accessories meant for decoration rather than function.

Decorative cover for your pillow, usually not meant to be slept onThe comfortable cover is meant to be slept on
Opens at the middle of their backs and the slit is hidden with an overlapping length of fabric or a zipper closureOpens at one end, sometimes sporting an envelope closure to prevent pillows from sliding out
Made with luxurious fabrics such as silk or cashmere; sometimes made of cotton, linen, or synthetic fibers like polyesterMade with cotton, linen, or polyester
Vigorous movement in the washing machine may damage some shamsCan be machine-washed and dried
Generally sports 2 to 3 inch wide flanges(strips of fabric added to make a sham look large and fancy) on all four sides. Flanges may be an extension of the material used to make the sham or fancy lace attached to the shamNo flanges

What Type of Pillows to Use with Bed Shams?

Though any type of pillow can be used with a bed sham, it’s better to use firmer foam varieties, such as memory foam pillows, because they hold their shape better than pillows with loose fibers like polyester. If you use bed shams for extra support when sitting up in bed, it’s better to have a firmer pillow supporting your back.

How to Style Bed Shams

There are infinite design possibilities when making your bed with shams. For example, you can use different-sized pillows to add depth to your room.

Rest the larger-sized pillows against the headboard, if you have one, or against the wall. This can make your bed look like a couch or a cozy seating space, if you wish.

Layer the pillows up in descending order with smaller pillows like neck rolls and boudoir pillows in front. Generally, three layers are used but there are no set rules so put your creativity to use and arrange the pillows on the bed as you wish.

Some people lay their sleeping pillows flat on the bed and stack the bed shams on them. By arranging your pillows that way, the bed shams can protect your sleeping pillows from dust throughout the day. Many also find that there are benefits to making their bed in the morning, helping them feel accomplished early in the day.

Even if you don’t sleep on your bed sham pillows, you may still want to fluff the pillows up regularly to give them a nice, plump look.


What is the difference between a sham and a pillowcase?

Both cover your pillows, but shams are for decoration while pillowcases are more functional. The pillowcase keeps your pillow clean by protecting it from dust, dirt, and indoor allergens. A sham also protects your pillow, just like a pillowcase, but it’s mostly for decoration. It may not be made with breathable fabrics like a pillowcase, and so not as comfortable to sleep on.

Do you need pillow shams?

If you want to convert your standard size sleeping pillow into a decorative accessory, you’ll need a pillow sham. If you don’t care much about the look of your bed, then a pillowcase will suffice.

Some pillow shams may not be comfortable enough to rest your head on because they flaunt sequins, buttons, or lace. People usually remove sham-covered pillows before sleeping and place them back on the bed in the morning.

Do shams go in front or back of the sleeping pillows?

This depends on your personal choice. Shams can be against the headboard, serve as a backdrop for your sleeping pillows, or placed in front for decoration. Some may even switch up how their pillows are arranged throughout the day to better suit their present needs.

Are king pillows too big for a queen bed?

A single king size pillow will be good for a queen bed, but placing two of these pillows together on a queen bed will be difficult. They will overlap with each other, leaving no space between them. Since a king pillow is 36 inches long, so to place two king pillows side by side you’ll need a bed that is 78 inches wide, whereas the width of a queen bed is only 60 inches.

How many pillows should be on a bed?

This depends on the size of the bed and the pillows. Usually, a queen size bed holds two pillows, two shams, and two to three smaller accent pillows. The number of pillows may be increased in a king or California king, but it’s better to limit your pillows between 10 to 12 to avoid clutter. However, the answer to “how many pillows is too many” is largely a matter of personal preference.


If you want to make a bold statement, buy standalone bed shams from bedding stores or online. You can complete the classic look with a bed skirt and perhaps even a hanging canopy. If you prefer a minimalist look, then the shams that come with your bedding set are a great option.

Before buying, check the size of the sham included in the bedding set to ensure it’s compatible with your pillow insert. Generally, twin, full, and queen bedding sets include standard shams, while king bedding sets include king shams fit for styling a king bed. So if you’re sleeping on queen size pillows you may need to order standalone shams.

About the author

April Mayer is a sleep expert and writer with a degree in exercise physiology. She has dedicated her career to exploring the relationship between sleep and productivity. Her insightful articles, such as "The Surprising Way Your Mood Might Be Messing With Your Productivity" and "Wake Up to More Productive Mornings," have been featured in reputable publications like Forbes, Greatist, Real Homes, Thrillist, Tom's Guide, and Eat This, Not That. With a passion for helping others lead more productive lives through restful sleep, April offers valuable expertise on foods and vitamins for better sleep. As a trusted member of the Early Bird team since March 2020, she continues to provide informative and well-researched content.

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