Eachnight may earn commissions for products you purchase through our links. Our articles and reviews include affiliate links and advertisements, including amerisleep advertising. Learn more Updated September 4, 2021If you’ve ever read anything about bedding fashion, you’ve probably run across the term “pillow sham,” and while you might’ve known what it meant, you might not be more familiar with the word than that. Below, we’ll talk not only about what a sham is but what it’s used for, where it came from, and who should use it.Sham vs. PillowcaseLike pillowcases, shams are meant to cover pillows. Unlike regular pillowcases, however, shams are not functional in the sense that they’re intended for sleeping. Rather, shams are decorative covers used to complete the look of decorative accent pillows.These decorative pillows could be one of the standard sizes, or they could be smaller or larger. They could also come in lots of fun shapes and bold colors, depending on the look you want.SEE ALSO: Bed Pillow SizesSham StylesPillow shams got their name from the false front they featured in the 18th century. Shams were originally designed to add decorative touches to the elaborate bed linens, bed covers, bed skirts, dust ruffles, and other intricate bedroom decors of the period.As we said above, shams can have tons of different looks, but there are a few categories most of them fall into: standard pillow sizes, boudoir, and European shams.Standard Pillow SizesStandard size shams are the same size as standard pillowcases. They’ll fit all the regular pillow sizes, including standard, queen, and king pillows. Standard pillow shams are 26 by 20 inches, queen shams are 30 by 20 inches, and king shams are 36 by 20 inches.Boudoir Pillow ShamsBoudoir shams are for decorative throw pillows. Boudoir pillows are normally smaller, measuring around 12 by 16 inches, and most should come with their own shams. You can also buy boudoir shams on their own to change up the pillows’ look.European Pillow ShamsEuro shams are for square pillows. Usually, they’re 26 by 26 inches, but they can be larger or smaller as long as the pillow is square. Like with boudoir shams, European shams can come with a pillow or be bought independently.Sham UsesThe primary use for pillow shams is to provide decorative accents, so they’re not going to be something you’re sleeping on every night. Most of the time, people place their sham pillows on the bed during the day to make the bed more fashionable when not in use. They then remove the sham pillows at night to sleep.This is common with queen or king size beds, which are large enough to accommodate a pile of eye-catching pillows. Anything smaller than a queen bed may be dressed with one sham pillow, maybe two.Sometimes decorative pillows can double as functional pillows. Some people may use them as lumbar pillows or body pillows, placing them in the middle of their backs or hugging one to their body. Others use them to prop themselves in bed during the day. Smaller bed pillows can also double as neck rolls.Just make sure, if you’re using your sham pillow for extra support or as a sleeping pillow, your decorative pillowcases don’t have features like lace or sequins that can be damaged.It’s also important to make sure you wash your sham often, even if you’re not sleeping on it. Ideally, bedding should be washed about once a week.FAQsDo I need pillow shams at all?That depends on how you want to decorate your bed. If you want a simple arrangement that you don’t have to fiddle with every night, shams might not be for you. However, if you want a fashionable bed that adds to the look of your room, shams are pretty much a must.There are tons of great ways to incorporate shams into the look of your bed. If you’re going for a rustic or antique look, lace, quilting, or embroidery might be for you. Those who want a more modern or minimalist look might consider bold accent colors, geometric patterns, or print.What kind of pillows should I use with shams?Since you’re not going to be sleeping on the pillows in your shams, you don’t have to worry much about getting supportive pillows. You’ll want the pillows to be thick enough to fill out the sham and stand on their own without collapsing or folding over.As you’re also going to be moving them around every night to go to sleep, you will probably prefer a lighter pillow that’s easier to toss aside. And because they’re just decorative, you may not want to pay too much for them.Firm/thick pillows in lighter weight, cheaper materials like cotton or fiberfill are likely your best bet. If you’re planning on using the pillow as a head or backrest while you lounge in bed during the day, memory foam may also be a good option for you.Can I sleep on pillow shams?While you can sleep on pillow shams, whether you should is a bit more controversial, as shams frequently come with decorative features, brighter colors, and wrinkle-resistant fabrics that might be less able to wick away sweat. In other words, you might not sleep well. Cooling pillows designed to wick away heat can help you sleep undisturbed.Plus, means your movements during the night could tear your shams’ decorations, and products you put on your hair or face might cause the shams’ patterns or colors to fade. For these reasons, it’s usually better to reconsider sleeping on your shams.Will shams come with my sheet set or duvet cover?Maybe. Some sheet sets come with every piece of bedding included and may feature several shams or even decorative pillows. Some sheet sets come with just the sheets, and comforter or duvet sets may consist of matching shams. If none of the bedding sets you look at include shams, you can always purchase them independently.Are my shams machine washable?That depends on the material they’re made of and the decorations they have. Shams made of machine-washable natural or synthetic fibers with no delicate decorative features like lace or fringe can probably go in the washing machine. If your sham doesn’t fit this description, you might want to hand wash or dry clean.As with all sheets and other bedding, check your pillow shams’ tags before tossing them in the washing machine. The care label won’t just tell you whether the pillows are machine washable, but their ideal washing temp and cycle.One of the great things about sham pillows is you don’t have to wash them all that much. Because you don’t sleep on them, you can get away with washing shams as often as you wash your comforter or duvet cover rather than as often as you wash your sheets.Bottom LineShams can be a great addition to the look of your bed due to their infinite design possibilities. They can add a pop of color to your down comforter, a shot of spice to your duvet cover, or a fluffier look to your bed.If you’re looking to turn your bed into a bold statement piece rather than just some furniture you sleep on, you can’t skip out on the decorative shams. For a greater impact, you could dress it up further with a new skirt or dust ruffle along the edges of the bed.About the author Kiera PritchardKiera Pritchard’s curiosity around dreams and dreaming sparked her passion for sleep science. In addition to freelancing for eachnight, Kiera is also a physical trainer and strives to help others lead healthy lives while asleep and awake. Since joining our team, Kiera has compiled multiple sleep health guides offering our readers advice on how to improve their days and evenings. Find more articles by Kiera Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.