How Pillow Shams Can Transform Your Bedroom

No well-made bed is complete without pillows shams. Learn how to choose the best pillow shams for a bed that is as comfy as it is beautiful.

By Alesandra Woolley

May 9th, 2022

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Nothing says “bedroom luxury” quite like a soft, inviting nest of well-placed pillows and pillow shams, but striking the right balance between a comfy bed and one that must be excavated to sleep in can be tricky. With 11 different types of decorative pillows and pillow shams to choose from, you might feel a little overwhelmed.

Don’t worry — you don’t need to use them all to have a stylish bedroom. You can choose as many or as few as you want, and there are no hard and fast design rules for stacking your pillows and shams.

There are a few things to know, however, that will help you choose the best pillow shams for creating a bed that looks as good as it feels when you climb in it. First things first…

What is a Pillow Sham? 

Many people don’t know the difference between a pillow sham and a pillowcase. While pillow shams can look very similar to regular pillowcases, most differ in appearance and function.

Pillow shams are decorative covers for pillows that are used for styling on your bed along with throw pillows. Shams are not designed to be slept on. Many people use these pillows for support while they read or watch TV in bed and then remove them for sleeping. 

While you can certainly choose to sleep on your pillows shams, they may not be as comfortable as pillow cases because of decorative features, and they may not be as easy to clean as regular pillowcases. The pillow inserts are held inside the sham with ties or overlapping flaps to cover the openings.

There are many different sizes for pillow shams, but the most popular pillow shams are available in the following sizes:

Euro 26” x 26”
King  20” x 36”
Queen  20” x 30”
Standard  20” x 26”
Boudoir  12” x 16”

How is a pillow sham different from a pillowcase? 

Pillowcases are used to cover and protect the pillow that you regularly sleep on. They have an opening on one edge to make it easy to remove the pillow when you wash the pillowcase. 

Pillowcases are designed to be slept on, so they should be washed regularly along with your linens. They usually come in two sizes:

  • Standard 20″ x 26″
  • King 20″ x 36″

Not all manufacturers make queen size pillows (20″ x 30″), so pillowcases in this size can be hard to find. Some bed linens creators, like Vero Linens, add a few inches to their standard pillowcases to accommodate queen size pillows as well as standard.

Our Favorite Pillow Shams

The best pillow shams start with sumptuous, luxurious fabric. And that’s not just because they will look better than shams made of a coarse or flimsy fabric. 

Pillow shams should be substantial enough to hold their shape, supple enough to provide comfortable support, and constructed well enough to be durable.

vero linen pillow shams e1518735873283

Vero Linens 

Vero has been making luxury Italian bed linens and selling them directly to customers for 25 years. By cutting out retailers, Vero is able to offer linens made of high-quality cotton linens at affordable prices. 

The long-staple fibers in Vero’s superior grade cotton create fabrics that are softer, silkier, and more durable than low-grade cotton. Shams are available in Standard, King, and Euro sizes in classic tones of white, ivory, and sable. Edges include flanges and knife edge.

PB pillow shams

Pottery Barn 

Pottery Barn offers pillow shams in natural cotton and linen fabrics sporting timeless patterns and colors. Shams are available in Standard, King, and Euro sizes, and all can be monogrammed for personalized luxury. Edges include flanges and knife edge. Pottery Barn offers one-stop shopping for your pillow shams with down feather inserts in every size and shape.

pinzon pillow shams e1518735284154


Pinzon Pillow Shams harness the power of Amazon to deliver high-quality pillow shams to your door the same day your order them. Rated 4.5/5 among hundreds of Amazon customers, these shams are made in Portugal with 100% cotton in a variety of colors and styles. Available in Standard, King, and Euro size shams feature flanges or knife edges.

How to Arrange Pillows and Shams on Your Bed

Pillow shams are designed to be decorative covers for your regular pillows, protecting them from dust and dirt. Even if you only include two pillows shams, they should at least cover the pillows you sleep on night after night to hide any imperfections.

Many designers like a stacked look that builds on a larger foundation in the back and finishes with smaller pillows in front. Others use smaller pillows shams to prop up larger pillows and shams in the front. It’s all a matter of taste.

Here are a few quick tips for styling your bed: 

  1. Euro shams are usually placed at the headboard standing behind the other pillows. Your standard, queen, or king-sized pillows should come next. Layer queen or king-sized pillow shams on top of those. All pillow shams should stand on edge inclined slightly towards the headboard.
  2. Boudoir pillow shams can be scattered across any bed in whatever number you choose. Just remember that boudoir pillows are largely decorative, so whatever collection you create will have to be removed every night and replaced every time you make your bed. 
  3. If you have a fickle style and enjoy changing up your bed’s design, use a duvet cover instead of a comforter. They’re easier and cheaper to switch out when you need a new design.

If you really want to deck out your bed (and don’t mind the extra work of removing and replacing), you can add neck rolls, bolsters, square, and lumbar pillows.

The designers at Matouk offer suggested arrangements for queen-sized beds…

…and king-sized beds:

Choosing Inserts for your Pillows Shams

As with pillowcases, you need to buy pillow inserts for your pillow shams. Savvy decorators choose feathers and down or down alternative rather than foam or synthetic fills in their pillow shams. 

Why? Because feathers and down will expand to the exact shape of your sham, filling it completely even in the tight corners. 

You might be tempted to insert old pillows you no longer use for sleeping. Resist that urge! Those old lifeless pillows will not fill your sham properly and leave gaps. Without the proper tension, decorative edges, like flanges or cording, will not stand up straight.

Our favorite places to find feather/down pillow sham inserts are Pottery Barn and The Company Store. Both offer inserts in every size and shape you can imagine in 200-thread count cotton shells.

Pillows shams offer an opportunity for you to get creative in your bedroom design and try out new styles. 

Share your favorite pillows sham arrangements in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!