What is a Sham? Pillow Sham vs. Pillow Case

What is a Sham? Pillow Sham vs. Pillow Case

When it comes to pillow coverings that complement your luxury bedding, pillow shams add to your bedroom design and create a finished, cohesive look. Not to be confused with its very pretty (and necessary) counterpart: the pillow case, the decorative pillow sham, while still used with a pillow insert, serves a completely different purpose than the pillow case where you lay your head to sleep each night.

Pillow Cases and Pillow Shams - What is Their Purpose?

Pillow shams and pillow cases are similar, but they are definitely not the same and in fact, have different purposes. Our fine linen experts at Peacock Alley share their expertise and insight as to the differences between a pillow sham and pillow case and why ultimately, you need them both.

  • Pillow Sham – By definition, a pillow sham is a decorative pillow case that is meant to cover a pillow for design purposes rather than to be slept on.
  • Pillow Case – By definition, a pillow case is a removable covering, usually made of cotton, pulled over a pillow. The main purpose of a pillow case is to protect your pillow and keep it clean as you sleep.

Pillow Cases vs Pillow Shams – Everything You Need to Know         

When setting out to choose your preferred bedding elements, both pillow shams and pillow cases are needed to complete a curated look. Here are some “tips and tricks of the trade” from our design experts, to help you choose what’s right for your bedroom.

·       What Do Pillow Cases and Pillow Shams Have in Common
    • The pillow case and the pillow sham were both designed as a covering for your bed pillows.
    • Both pillow cases and pillow shams are made from luxurious fabrics and high-end materials for an elevated look and feel.
·       Differences Between Pillow Cases and Pillow Shams
    • Pillow cases are open at one end for easy pillow insertion and removal, with no type of closure. Pillow shams open from the back for pillow insertion with either a hidden closure or an overlapping length of fabric commonly known as an envelope closure.
    • Pillow cases are typically made in solid colors or with a printed fabric and are usually fairly simple in design. Pillow shams are decorative and stand out with detail and designs that typically match the coverlet or duvet cover. Shams can also be used to add a touch of color to the space.
    • Pillow cases are made from the same material as your sheets, while pillow shams are typically made with fabric that pairs with your coverlet or duvet cover.
Biagio Duvert and Shams in Linen, shown with a tailored stack

Can You Sleep on a Pillow Sham?

When it is bedtime, the assortment of pillows on our bed gets rearranged and often moved to another location. The top layer of accent pillows, covered with luxurious pillow shams are not meant to be slept on - they are typically removed from the bed while sleeping. There are exceptions as some fine European hotels use sleeping shams, which fully encase a sleeping pillow on all sides using the same fabric as the bed’s sheeting. Peacock Alley offers a few of these as options for a more minimal, simplified look.

While it’s obviously possible to sleep on a pillow sham, they are not really designed for this purpose; shams are meant for design and décor. In fact, due to the textured materials, it is much more comfortable to rest your head on a pillow case made from luxury cotton fabric. Not to mention, pillow shams are not designed to be washed as frequently as pillow cases.  

Styling with Pillow Shams and Pillow Cases      

Selecting the ideal pillow shams and pillow cases can elevate your bedroom to a whole new level of style and comfort.  It can add a designer element typically found in bedrooms of luxury homes. Add a pop of color or texture, coordinate details of your sheeting, or change the design of your aesthetic with a couple new pieces. The linen experts at Peacock Alley suggest these tips for styling with pillow shams and pillow cases.

  • Stacked – The easiest of the styling techniques, stacking, is a great method to experiment with. Place the sleeping pillows at the bottom of the stack flat against the mattress. Next, stack the pillows with decorative shams on top of the bed pillows. This is how the shams protect our sleeping pillows, by covering them. If you have accent pillows, those can be placed propped upright, leaning against this stack according to your preference. Sometimes referred to as a tailored stack, this is style is often is used to create a more modern, minimalist look in your bedroom.
  • Layered – One of the more popular techniques for decorating a bed with pillows is layering. Begin with the sleeping pillows propped up against the headboard. Next add different sized pillows with decorative pillow shams. Continue the layered look (propping pillows and pillow shams upright) with your selection of pillow cases, shams, and accent pillows for your desired style.

What Size Pillow Shams Do I Need? 

Luxury pillow shams come in a variety of sizes:
Popular Pillow Sham Sizes

  • Standard Pillow Shams are 20" x 26" and are designed to fit over a standard bed pillow and can be used to create the middle row of pillows in the stacked technique on a twin, full, or queen-sized bed. We often recommend purchasing a pillow insert for the shams for a fuller fit and more polished look.
  • King Pillow Shams are 20" x 36", which is slightly longer than a standard sham, and are made to fit king size pillows or pillow inserts. They also can be used to create the middle row of pillows in the stacked technique on a king-sized bed. We recommend two king-sized pillow shams for a King Bed.
  • Euro Shams are 26" x 26" and fit the square euro pillow, which is perfect for the back row of pillows to add height to your bedding pillow arrangement. Typically, three Euro shams are used for a king-sized bed and two for a queen-sized bed.
Hamilton coverlet and shams shown with Chloe duvet and shams

High Quality Pillow Shams and Luxury Bedding options from Peacock Alley

Peacock Alley offers a vast collection of pillow shams and pillow cases to complement your bedroom’s style, color, and overall aesthetic. Trust us to help you find the perfect sateen or percale pillow cases that will protect your favorite down pillows. And when it comes to the decorative elements on your bed – we offer a beautiful assortment of patterned and textured matelassé pillow shams to complete your look. After all, there is nothing better than coming home to a well-dressed bed.

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