According to , a sham is “an ornamental cover laid over a bed pillow.” Although this definition isn’t wrong, it only scratches the surface of what a sham truly is. For the hardcore decorators out there, crafting a thoughtful home starts with fully understanding even the most specific decorative pieces. When it comes to bedding, there are endless terms to decipher. From coverlets to bedspreads to duvets and comforters, confusion is inevitable…but not unavoidable.
And while it may take some time to fully master the perfect bedding, we break down everything you need to know about what a sham is, when to use it, and how to pick the right type. Read on to gain some clarity regarding this bedroom staple.
WHAT IS A SHAM?
Let’s begin with a quick history lesson. A sham, also called a pillow sham, stems from the term meaning “a thing that is not what it is purported to be.” And while a sham isn’t designed to deceive anyone, it does have a disguising quality. 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. They have a hidden opening in the back that is usually zippered or buttoned shut, unlike traditional pillowcases with a more obvious side opening.
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.
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.
Here are some of our favorites: