What is a Pillow Sham? The Ultimate Guide

What is a Pillow Sham? The Ultimate Guide

If you've ever wondered about the difference between a pillow case and a pillow sham, you're not alone. These two terms are often used interchangeably, causing confusion for many people. In this comprehensive guide, we will unravel the mystery of pillow shams and explain what they are, how they differ from pillow cases

If you've ever wondered about the difference between a pillow case and a pillow sham, you're not alone. These two terms are often used interchangeably, causing confusion for many people. In this comprehensive guide, we will unravel the mystery of pillow shams and explain what they are, how they differ from pillow cases, and how they can enhance the look of your bed.

Understanding the Basics: Pillow Case vs. Pillow Sham

At first glance, a pillow case and a pillow sham may seem similar because they both cover a pillow. However, there are distinct differences between the two. Let's start by defining each term:

  1. Pillow Case: A pillow case is a simple, functional cover that is primarily used to protect the pillow from dirt, oils, and sweat. It is usually open at one end and slips over the pillow, although some have an envelope or zipper closure, providing a soft and comfortable surface for sleeping. Pillow cases are typically made from the same fabric as the bed sheets and are designed for everyday use.

  2. Pillow Sham: A pillow sham, on the other hand, is a decorative cover that adds an extra layer of style to your bed. Unlike a pillow case, a sham is not meant to be slept on directly. It is typically used as a decorative accent to enhance the overall aesthetic of the bedding ensemble. Pillow shams often feature intricate patterns, textures, and embellishments, making them a focal point in the bedroom decor.

Features and Characteristics of Pillow Shams

To fully understand what sets a pillow sham apart from a pillow case, let's dive deeper into the features and characteristics of sham covers:

1. Design and Decorative Elements

Pillow shams are known for their decorative appeal. They come in a variety of designs, patterns, and textures, allowing you to customize your bed's look according to your personal style. Sham covers often feature decorative elements such as flanges, ruffles, embroidery, or piping, adding visual interest and elegance to your bedding ensemble.

2. Closure Styles

Unlike pillow cases, which are open at one end, pillow shams have different closure styles. Some shams have an overlapping envelope-style closure at the back, while others may feature a hidden zipper or button closure. These closures not only secure the pillow inside the sham but also contribute to the overall aesthetic appeal. having said that, it is becoming more popular for pillowcases to have envelope and zipper closures too.

3. Sizing Options

Pillow shams are available in various sizes to accommodate different pillow sizes and bed configurations. The most common sizes include standard shams (20 inches by 26 inches), queen shams (20 inches by 30 inches), and king shams (20 inches by 36 inches). Euro shams, which are larger square-shaped shams (usually 26 inches by 26 inches), are also popular for adding a touch of European elegance to the bed.

4. Placement and Arrangement

Pillow shams are typically placed in front of the sleeping pillows during the day to create a layered and visually appealing arrangement. At night, the shams can be removed from the bed or placed behind the sleeping pillows for a more comfortable sleeping experience. Some people also choose to incorporate accent pillows or decorative throw pillows to further enhance the overall look.

The Versatility of Pillow Shams

Pillow shams offer a versatile and creative way to elevate the style of your bed. Here are a few ways you can incorporate pillow shams into your bedroom decor:

1. Mix and Match

One of the great things about pillow shams is that they can be mixed and matched with different bedding elements. You can choose shams that complement your duvet cover, quilt, or comforter, creating a cohesive and visually appealing look. Experiment with different textures, patterns, and colors to achieve the desired effect.

2. Layering and Stacking

Layering and stacking pillows with shams is a popular technique used by interior designers to create a luxurious and inviting bed. Start by placing the pillow cases on the bottom, followed by the pillow shams, and then add accent pillows or decorative throw pillows for added visual interest. This technique adds depth and dimension to your bedding ensemble.

3. Creating a focal point

If you want to make a statement with your bedding, use a bold and eye-catching pillow sham as a focal point. Choose a sham with an intricate pattern, vibrant color, or unique texture to draw attention to your bed. Pair it with more understated pillow cases and bedding elements to let the sham shine.

Shopping for Pillow Shams

When shopping for pillow shams, keep the following factors in mind:

  1. Size Compatibility: Ensure that the sham size matches the size of your pillows. Consider the dimensions of your pillows and choose shams that will fit snugly without being too tight or loose.

  2. Style and Design: Select pillow shams that complement your existing bedding or the desired style you want to achieve. Consider the colors, patterns, and textures that will harmonize with the overall aesthetic of your bedroom.

  3. Quality and Material: Opt for high-quality materials that are durable and easy to maintain. Common options include cotton, linen, silk, or blends of these fabrics. Consider the care instructions and choose shams that are practical for your lifestyle.

  4. Closure Type: Decide on the closure type that best suits your preferences and convenience. Whether it's an envelope-style closure, hidden zipper, or button closure, ensure that it is secure and easy to use.


In conclusion, a pillow sham is more than just a decorative cover for your pillows. It adds style, elegance, and personality to your bedding ensemble. While pillow cases primarily serve a functional purpose, pillow shams allow you to express your creativity and enhance the overall look of your bed. By understanding the differences and unique features of pillow shams, you can transform your bedroom into a cozy and visually appealing sanctuary.

So, the next time someone asks, "What is a pillow sham?" you can confidently explain its decorative and aesthetic significance in your bedroom decor. Explore the wide range of pillow sham options available and have fun experimenting with different styles, patterns, and arrangements to create a bed that reflects your personal style and brings you joy and comfort every night.

At the time of writing Olive + Crate does not make pillow shams, but you can check out our range of beautiful, cooling TENCEL eucalyptus pillowcases on this site. If you value breathable, moisture-wicking pillowcases that are anti-static and great for hair and skin, you cannot look past genuine certified TENCEL

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