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What is A Sham? - A Complete Guide

May 29, 2023 7 min read

A sham, otherwise known as a pillow sham, is a decorative covering for pillows, commonly used to add style and visual appeal to a bed.  It also protects the pillow sham from dirt, oils, and other contaminants.

Shams are a popular and versatile bedding accessory. Though similar to pillowcases, they add an extra touch of style and elegance to your bed. Shams often feature intricate patterns, embroidery, textures, or embellishments, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal of your bedding arrangement. Sometimes, shams are made from the same fabric as the bedspread, duvet cover, or quilt, providing a coordinated and cohesive look to the bedding set.  

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the definition of a sham, its history, its purpose, different types of shams, proper placement on the bed, what is a sham on a bed and its purpose in bedroom decor.

What is A Sham



Table of Contents

1.  Origin of Shams

2.  Types of Shams

a.  Euro Shams

b.  Standard Shams

c.  King Shams

d.  Boudoir Shams

3.  Are Shams Necessary?

4.  How To Choose The Right Sham

5. How To Style Your Bedding Using Shams

6.  About Beddley Shams

7.  Frequently Asked Questions

8.  Conclusion


1.  Origin of Shams

Origin of Shams


Pillow shams have been used for centuries and have their origins in Europe. The term "sham" originally referred to a decorative covering or case for a pillow, typically made of fabric and adorned with decorative elements such as embroidery, lace, or ribbons. The word "sham" itself comes from the Arabic word "shama," which means a covering or a curtain.

In the Middle Ages, pillow shams were primarily used by the upper classes as a way to display wealth and luxury. They were often crafted from luxurious fabrics, such as silk or satin, and intricately designed and embellished with expensive materials and embroidery. Pillow shams served both functional and decorative purposes, protecting the pillows from dirt and oils while adding an aesthetic element and sophistication to the bed.

Over time, pillow shams became popular across different cultures and social classes, and evolved in terms of design and materials used. They were commonly used in Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, where they were an essential part of the elaborate beddings and bedchambers of the nobility.

Today, pillow shams are still widely used as decorative covers for pillows. They are often designed to match or complement the overall bedding ensemble and are placed in front of the sleeping pillows or regular pillowcases. Pillow shams provide an extra layer of style and elegance to the bed, allowing for various decorative arrangements and adding a finishing touch to the bedroom decor.

They are now available in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes to suit different tastes and interior decor preferences. While some people still use them primarily for decorative purposes, pillow shams can also be functional, providing an extra layer of protection for pillows or taking the place of the pillowcase.

2. Types of Shams

a. Euro Shams

Euro shams are square-shaped pillow covers that measure approximately 26 inches by 26 inches (66 cm by 66 cm). They are larger than standard or king shams and are commonly used as the back layer of pillows when arranging pillows on the bed. Euro shams are an excellent choice for providing a backdrop for decorative pillows and adding volume to the bedding display.

b. Standard Shams

Standard shams are the most common type of shams. They are rectangular-shaped and are designed to fit standard-sized pillows. They typically measure around 20 inches by 26 inches (51 cm by 66 cm). Standard shams are commonly used in pairs as the foundation for layering additional decorative pillows, creating a cohesive and symmetrical look.

c. King Shams

King shamsare larger than standard shams, usually measuring around 20 inches by 36 inches (51 cm by 91 cm). As the name suggests, they are designed to fit king-sized pillows. They are used in pairs to decorate larger beds and add a touch of elegance to the overall bedding ensemble.

d. Boudoir Shams

Boudoir shams are smaller rectangular-shaped shams that can add visual interest and dimension to your bed arrangement. They measure around 12 inches by 16 inches (30 cm by 41 cm) and are typically used as decorative accents, often placed in front of larger shams or pillows.

The specific dimensions of sham sizes can vary depending on regional standards and bedding manufacturers. 

It's worth noting that the dimensions given above are general guidelines, and variations can exist depending on the brand, design, or personal preferences. When purchasing sham covers, it's advisable to check the specific measurements provided by the manufacturer to ensure a proper fit for your pillows.

3. Are Shams Necessary

Pillow shams are not essential for the functionality of your pillows, but they can be a decorative and functional addition to your bedding ensemble. Pillow shams are designed to cover regular pillows and are often used to create a more polished, sophisticated and coordinated look for your bed.

Here are a few reasons why pillow shams can be beneficial:

  1. Aesthetic appeal: Pillow shams come in various colors, patterns, and textures, allowing you to enhance the overall look of your bed. They can add visual interest and serve as an accent to your bedding or bedroom decor.
  2. Protection: Pillow shams can provide an extra layer of protection for your pillows, keeping them clean and free from dust, dirt, and oils. This can be especially useful if you do some reading, working, or eating in bed.
  3. Support: Depending on the design, pillow shams can provide some additional support or comfort when used with a pillow. For example, some shams have a firmer structure or extra padding, which can help maintain the shape of your pillows and offer a more comfortable surface to lean against.

While pillow shams are not a necessity, they can be a worthwhile addition if you want to elevate the aesthetic appeal of your bedding and protect your pillows. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and the style you want to create in your bedroom.

4. How To Choose The Right Sham

Choose The Right Sham


Choosing the right pillow sham involves considering several factors such as size, style, material, and practicality.

Here are some guidelines to help you choose the right pillow sham:

  1. SizeConsider the size of your pillows and choose a sham that matches their dimensions or slightly exceeds them to ensure a proper fit.
  2. StyleDetermine the desired style and color that will complement your bedding and bedroom decor.
  3. MaterialLook for a sham made from high-quality materials for durability and comfort. Shams are available in a variety of materials, including cotton, linen, silk, satin, and synthetic fabrics. Consider the level of comfort and durability you desire. Cotton and linen are popular choices for their breathability and softness, while silk and satin provide a luxurious feel.
  4. Closure:Pay attention to the closure type (zipper, button, or envelope) for ease of use.
  5. MaintenanceCheck for easy care instructions to ensure convenient maintenance.  Is it machine washable or requires special care like dry cleaning?
  6. Firmness: Take into account the desired level of firmness or softness provided by the sham if it’s padded.
  7. BudgetCompare prices and read reviews to find a sham that offers good value for your budget. Higher-priced shams may offer better quality and durability, but there are also affordable options available that can meet your needs.
  8. Design: Consider any specific features or design elements you prefer, such as embroidery or patterns.
  9. Measure: Remember to measure the thickness of your pillows to ensure the sham will fit properly.

By considering these factors, you can choose a pillow sham that fits your pillows properly, matches your style preferences, offers comfort and durability, and enhances your sleeping experience.

5. How To Style Your Bedding Using Shams

You might be wondering, where does the sham go on the bed? The placement of shams on the bed is a matter of personal preference and the overall aesthetic you’d like to achieve. They are positioned to create a layered and stylish appearance for the bed. The number of shams to use depends on your personal preference and the design of the bedding ensemble. Generally, shams are positioned in front of the pillows used for sleeping. 

Style Your Bedding Using Shams

Here are some common placement options:

  • For a classic look, place standard or king shams against the headboard or wall, followed by any Euro shams.
  • Create depth and texture by layering pillows or smaller shams in front of the larger shams.
  • Experiment with different arrangements and orientations to find a style that suits your taste and complements your bedding ensemble.

Common arrangements also include using one or two shams for twin or full beds, and two or three shams for queen or king beds.

6. About Beddley Shams

Beddley shams are beloved, high-quality, affordable and easy to care for. Our shams are made of the finest, super soft, breathable cotton fabric by expert craftsmen and women  who are steeped in their trade.

Beddley shams have convenient envelope or easy-care zipper closures. You’ll find a variety of designs in beautiful embroidery, solid color and color-blocked flanged iterations in our collection.

Beddley Shams


7. Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Is A Sham On A Bed?

Sham On A Bed

Shams serve both a functional and aesthetic purpose in bedroom decor. They are often coordinated with other elements of the bedding, such as comforters, duvet covers, or bedspreads, to create a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing look that complement the overall design of the room.

Shams add an extra layer of style and elegance to the bedding ensemble, complementing the overall theme or color scheme. They create a visually appealing focal point for the bed.


  • Can You Sleep on a Pillow Sham?

Shams have evolved, so it depends. Some pillow shams are primarily used as decorative accents for the bed. They are not designed for sleeping as they are typically made of delicate or decorative fabrics that lack the softness, comfort and level of support of regular pillowcases.  It is recommended to remove such shams before bedtime and use regular sleeping pillowcases for optimal comfort and support.

Whereas, there are pillow shams made with non-ornate plain material. These would most likely be made from the same fabric as the bedcover, such as the bedspread, duvet cover or quilt. You can rest your head comfortably on these as you would a pillowcase.


8. Conclusion

Shams are a beautiful and versatile bedding accessory that adds style, texture, and elegance to your bed ensemble. By understanding the different types of shams, their placement on the bed, and their purpose as decorative elements, you can create a visually stunning, well-coordinated and inviting bedroom oasis. 

Shams are stylish and functional, and offer a wonderful opportunity to showcase your personal style and enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of your bedroom.

Style your Bedding by Using Shams

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