According to the internet, the phrase “sham”, at least in the context of bedding, has its origins in trickery. In the 1700s, cases with removable decorative fronts first came into fashion and were appropriately labeled “shams”. Since then, people have been using similar ornamental cases on their beds for decoration.
For those not well versed in the language of interior decorators, this can be somewhat confusing. You may find yourself wondering, what is a sham, isn’t it just a pillowcase? In fact, you may even find websites and blogs who say that pillow cases and pillow shams are the same thing. In truth, they’re similar, but not the same.
What is a Sham?
Pillow shams are meant to cover a regular pillow with a removable, decorative case. Unlike a throw pillow, which is used exclusively for decorative purposes, a sham can removed or replaced with a traditional pillowcase for normal use.
Although they can definitely be slept on like normal pillowcases, pillow shams are usually used as support when sitting in bed and as decoration during the day. Sham pillows can be placed behind normal pillows when sleeping or just removed from the bed completely. Unlike throw pillows, cotton shams can be easily removed from their fills to be washed or replaced.
Difference between a Pillow Case and Pillow Sham:
- A pillow case will be open at the end or have a slit and no closure. Pillow cases create a more simpler and minimalistic look with less decoration and pattern on the case itself with a softer, comfortable feeling to sleep on. When purchasing a sheet set, the pillow cases included are the covers that you would sleep on and place underneath a pillow sham.
- A pillow sham will have an overlapping opening in the back of the sham or a zipper/button closure to signify a decorative look. Pillow shams will also have different textured patterns to them to create a unique and decorative look to match the bedspread or comforter you are using. When purchasing a bedspread, comforter, or quilt set, any matching pillow shams that come with the set will match each other and be placed over the pillow cases.
How to Pick The Right Sham
Shams typically come in four different sizes, which all correspond with the traditional pillow sizes. The dimensions are as follows:
- Standard Sham= 20-by-26-inch
- Queen Sham= 20-by-30-inch
- King Sham= 20-by-36-inch
- European/Continental Sham= 26-by-20-inch
While ready-made pillow shams come in the above sizes, some bedding brands also sell travel-sized pillow shams, boudoir pillow shams, and made-to-order, custom-sized pillow shams.
How to pick the right style? That’s pretty much up to you. Shams come in a variety of styles and materials, from silk to to cotton, and everything in between. If you’re looking for the most fool-proof design, we recommend opting for a sham with a zipper, though shams with buttons can add a decorative touch that many people prefer.
When to Use a Sham
If you are looking to easily transform a standard-sized pillow into a decorative accessory, a sham is the perfect choice. Though they are comfortable enough to be slept on like a normal pillowcase, they are typically taken off the bed or placed behind normal pillows while you sleep. Shams can be easily removed and washed normally, perfect for people with children or pets, or for those who prefer to clean pillowcases in the washing machine.