In this article I’ll be answering all your questions about pillow shams.
Many of you might already be under the assumption that pillow shams and pillow cases are the same thing, but you’d be wrong.
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What is a Pillow Sham?
First let me say that if you’ve been thinking that pillow shams and pillow cases are the same thing, you are not alone. In fact, some retailers use the terms interchangeably, which definitely adds to the confusion.
So before we explore the more intricate differences between a pillowcase and a pillow sham, let’s just define what exactly a pillow sham is.
Simply put a sham is a decorative cover for your pillow. That’s it.
But the key word here is decorative and that’s the main thing that separates them from a regular pillowcase.
Difference Between a Pillow Sham and a Pillowcase
Let’s explore this further with the next question, which is what’s the difference between a pillow sham and a pillowcase?
Depending on the particular sham and pillowcase, there can be many material differences but the main thing to consider here is that a pillowcase is meant to protect your pillow and keep it clean while you sleep on it.
A sham is meant purely for decorative purposes and telling them apart is pretty easy once you know what to look for.
For example, pillowcases typically have openings on the side and are sort of more simple in appearance, meaning they usually don’t have fancy borders or embroidered designs or beaded embellishments sewn into the fabric.
Of course some luxury pillow cases may feature embroidery or special hem stitching along the cuff, but you’re not gonna find any of that on the face of the pillowcase, because that’s where you lay your head.
Ultimately pillowcases are supposed to be as cozy for you as they are protective for your pillow.
Pillow shams on the other hand, almost always have closures on the back rather than on the side. They also typically have flanged borders, which is something you’ve probably seen if you’ve ever spent the night in a hotel.
Flange borders are one of the biggest indicators of a pillow sham and they’re basically flat pieces of fabric that border all four sides of the pillow for a hotel aesthetic flair.
These flange borders may be embellished with beading or embroidery of some kind and maybe some stylish hem stitching.
Again the main purpose of a pillow sham is to spruce up your sleep space with some decorative bedding.
They do often come with comforter sets or sheet sets wherein the shams are already designed to match the rest of the bedding. Or of course you can buy pillow shams individually and explore different styles that will coordinate with the bedding you already have at home.
So basically when it comes to pillow shams, you definitely have a lot of room to get creative with personal style and decor.
That brings me to my next question.
Can You Sleep on a Pillow Sham?
Of course you can technically sleep on a pillow sham, but that’s really not their purpose, because they’re designed to be decorative.
They’re often made from textured fabrics, they’re not super cozy to sleep on and they feel rough or irritating against the skin.
Meanwhile those flanged borders can bunch up and feel awkward when you’re rolling around in bed and to me that’s the biggest difference between pillow shams and pillowcases.
Pillowcases are crafted to feel soothing and soft on your skin in order to help you get a good night’s rest, while pillow shams are really just there to make your bed look stylish and inviting.
What Kind of Pillows Are Best For Shams?
Technically you can use any pillow that’ll fit inside your sham.
However plush pillows like down, down alternative, cotton or polyester pillows tend to work best, because they do a better job of conforming to the interior dimensions of your pillow sham.
This means that the pillow is going to do a better job of filling all four corners of the sham which in turn will help the flange borders stay upright.
What’s The Difference Between a Euro and a Standard Pillow Sham?
The difference between a European sham and a standard pillow sham just comes down to a matter of measurements.
Standard shams are more rectangular and typically measure at about 20 by 26 inches, while European shams are more square in shape and usually measure at about 26 by 26 inches.
Aside from that, their functions are still exactly the same.
Both are super popular and very easy to find online or in stores, but be sure to take measurements of the pillow you’re looking to dress, which style of sham is really gonna fit best.
Are Pillow Shams Machine Washable?
This really all depends on what your pillow sham is made of.
Some pillow shams are machine washable and can even be thrown into a cycle with the rest of your bedding, making it nice and easy.
But some do need special care. If your pillow sham has beaded embroidery or delicate ornamental details sewn into the fabric, chances are you’re going to need to hand wash it or have it dry clean.
Remember to follow the exact wash care instructions as given by the manufacturer itself, as the people who made your pillow sham are gonna have the best wash care advice.
Do I Need a Pillow Sham?
Nope. A pillow sham is not essential to a good night’s rest. I do think it’s essential to have a good pillowcase as these accessories can really protect the integrity of your pillow and keep it safe from allergens and bacterial build-up and things like that.
But pillow shams are just fun, decorative, totally non-essential sleep accessories that can really just spruce up the look of your bedroom.
So if you’re looking for a way to sort of give your bedroom a hotel type vibe or maybe you’re looking to redesign a guest bedroom or something like that, using a couple pillow shams is a quick and easy way to make your bed look professionally made.
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Alex P. Davis has a BA in Interior Design from The New York School of Interior Design and 10 years of experience expertly designing sophisticated interiors.