February 01, 2024 6 min read

The words pillowcase and bed shams (or bed pillow shams) are often used interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same thing. So, what are bed shams, and how do they differ from regular pillowcases? A bed sham or pillow sham is mostly decorative and fits snugly over your pillow. This bedding doubles as decor, and it secures to the pillow via the back or the side. However, pillow shams technically aren’t designed to be slept on like regular pillowcases. Instead, these accents add color, visual interest, and aesthetic appeal to your sleeping space. Read on for a guide to bed shams to help you decide whether they’re the right choice for you.

Types of Bed Shams

So, what is bed shams meaning, and what are bed shams? The term “sham” refers to a front-facing covering that goes over pillows to add a decorative touch. There are several different types of bed shams available depending on the size, shape, and other factors, so let’s take a closer look at each of these sham styles.

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Standard Shams

In general, standard shams measure 20 inches wide by 26 inches long (20 x 26) and fit most standard pillows but you can also add queen pillows to this size if you prefer. You can add one standard sham to a twin or twin XL bed or add two to a full or queen bed to give it a decorative layer and a fresh pop of color. Use a sham in a contrasting hue to create an extra layer that adds visual interest to your bedroom.

Euro Shams

Euro shams, or European shams, have a square shape that measures 26 by 26 inches. You’ll need to add euro pillows to a euro sham due to its unusual, square shape. Add a single euro sham to twin beds or a twin xl-sized bed, add two to a full or queen bed, and layer three (or more) on king beds or California king-size beds.

King Shams

King shams typically measure 20 inches wide by 26 inches long and are designed to fit king sized pillows. Due to their large size, these shams should be used with a king-size bedding ensemble. You can easily add two to a king or California king bed for some nice decorative elements that complement your bedding set.

Decorative Shams

Decorative shams feature unique shapes, patterns, and designs and many feature intricate patterns that enhance the look of your bedroom decor. These shams add style, flair, texture, and color to the bedroom and come in a wide range of styles to suit your personal preference and desired style. Some decorative shams include beading or embroidery, while others may feature unique fabric materials or embellishments that give your sleeping space a bold, dramatic touch. They also add an interesting focal point that can improve the overall aesthetic appeal of the bedroom.

Matching Bed Shams with Bedding

Navy Blue Linen bed Sheets Light Grey Linen bed Sheets

Once you determine the size and style of your new bed shams, here are some tips to help you match them with your bedding:

  • Look for shams that coordinate with your duvet cover or comforter to create a cohesive, seamless look. You can also choose shams in the same fabric or a similar pattern so that everything matches nicely and adds a beautiful yet simple arrangement to your bed.
  • Select a set of shams that complement the overall style and look of your bedroom décor so that they don’t clash with the rest of the items in the room.
  • Feel free to mix and match shams in different intricate patterns, decorative stitching, and various fabric materials to add visual interest to the space that helps you showcase your personal style. Layer different pillow sizes for an even more dramatic effect.
Linen bed sheets

Materials and Fabric Choices

Pillow shams for bed come in a wide range of fabrics. It’s important to choose high quality materials for your new shams so they last. Here are some of the most common fabric types used for bed shams along with some considerations regarding their durability and care.

  • Cotton: This popular material is lightweight, breathable, super soft, and very easy to clean. If you suffer from allergies, choose a pillow sham made of organic cotton for a hypoallergenic and comfortable addition to your bed. A cotton bed sham with a hidden zipper is easy to remove and toss in the washing machine for easy cleaning.
  • Linen: This natural, sustainable material is made from the fibers of the flax plant and offers a soft, cool surface for comfort and breathability. While linen is certainly luxurious, it costs more than cotton, so that’s something to consider if you’re looking to update your bedroom on a budget.
  • Silk: This luxe material is made from fibers spun by silkworms and is quite delicate. While silk looks and feels amazing, it’s not quite as durable as linen or cotton so it’s important to handle your silk shams with the utmost care. Silk is also typically much more expensive than most other fabrics.
  • Polyester: While polyester is commonly used for bedding, it’s crafted of synthetic materials that may cause allergic reactions or irritation in some people. While this material is quite affordable, it’s not quite as soft as the other options. Choose a polyester blend so you have a comfortable surface instead of a scratchy one. If you’re only looking for decorative pillows alone rather than sleeping pillows, it may not matter as much if you opt for polyester.

How to Arrange Bed Shams

Now that you know more about shams for bed decor, how do you style a bed with shams? Here are some tips about how to arrange them in your bedroom.

  • You might wonder, should pillow shams go in front or behind? Since you’re going to sleep with your regular pillow and pillow case, place them on the bed first, then layer the shams in front of them.
  • If you want to create a simple arrangement for standard and king boudoir shams, start by adding two regular pillows against the headboard. Next, layer one or two standard sham pillows in front of them. If you have a king-size bed, do the same thing but with king pillows and sham covers instead. This simple method works well with standard or king shams.
  • Since euro shams have a square shape, it’s easy to get creative with this arrangement. Layer each euro pillow covered with euro shams in a different color or style directly in front of your standard pillowcases for a fun touch.
  • While you can easily add decorative pillows and throw pillows to the couch in your living room, they also look great in the bedroom, too. This arrangement works best with a king bed, and you should start by adding the largest euro pillows, lining three of them next to each other. Then, add smaller decorative pillows directly in front of the euro shams for a bold, layered look that brings unique color and texture to the space.

Tips for Cleaning and Maintenance

Here are some quick tips to help you clean and maintain your beautiful bed shams.

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  • Always follow the care instructions carefully and do so based on the fabric type and manufacturer instructions to prevent damage, discoloration, or shrinking.
  • If you notice a stain or marking, remove them as soon as possible to help keep your pillow shams looking, feeling, and smelling fresh.
  • Choose pillow shams with button, tie, or zipper closures, so they’re easy to remove and toss in the wash.
  • Feel free to rotate your decorative shams from the couch to the bedroom and back, depending on the season or your personal preferences. If you want to switch your bed shams and keep the others in storage, make sure you keep them in a linen closet out of direct sunlight and place them flat (not folded!) on a shelf to avoid creasing.

Final Thoughts on a guide to bed shams

If you’re looking for a great way to add unique details to your bedroom, have some fun experimenting with bed pillow shams in various sizes, designs, fabrics, and more. Remember to keep the size, fabric, and style of your new bed shams in mind to ensure a perfect sleeping space and keep care and maintenance in mind. At Or & Zon, you’ll find a wide variety of beautiful bedding to enhance your bedroom and your life.