Believe it or not, the supposedly simple task of making the bed is not always as easy as it seems. If you’re interested in fine linens, you may be familiar with the myriad of terminology that gets thrown around when you’re trying to shop for bedding: The “Euro sham,” the “standard sham,” the “boudoir pillow,” the “king pillow,” …and the list goes on! The confusion is unfortunate because shams are a great way to liven up bedding and bring together your overall bedroom design! So to help you make sense of this pillow vocab and style your shams correctly, we have compiled a thorough guide below. And we assure you these insider tips are no sham.
Lesson One: A Sham Is Not A Pillowcase
Before we give you tips on how to style your shams, we should probably explain exactly what shams are and what differentiates them from plain old pillow cases. Though similar, the two serve distinct purposes. Both are used to cover pillows, but pillow cases are designed to protect pillows and shams are designed purely for decorative purposes.
The Pillow Case
Pillow cases are designed to be slept on, and they serve a more practical, functional purpose than shams. Pillow cases are also simpler in style. Crafted from the same fabric as their matching bed sheets, pillow cases are (typically) open at one end and placed as the frontmost layer of double pillows on a made bed. There may be some decorative details, especially along the open cuff, but pillow cases are less ornate than shams in most cases.
Shams are intended primarily for decorative use. They are great for bringing a pop of color or texture to your bedding. In interior design, shams are often used to make your bedding cohesive with the rest of your bedroom furniture. Shams are generally open at the back with either a hidden closure or an overlapping length of fabric. Shams are also typically bordered with a flat strip of fabric called a flange (there’s your interior design word of the day!). Often designed to match duvet covers or comforters, shams may also have their own unique designs on occasion.
And A Fun Fact
The bedding term “pillow sham” actually stems from the true notion of the word meaning “a trick”. In the 1700’s, specially made pillowcases were made to create decorative pillows with removable covers. These pillow covers had “false fronts” with a hidden opening in the back instead of the side, so they became known as pillow shams!
Printed Sham Favorites:
Lesson Two: Not All Shams Are The Same
Pillow shams normally come in traditional pillow sizes. Keep reading below to learn how to style your shams, and then buy the appropriate sham size and type accordingly! Most shams you’ll find are categorized as: Standard Sham (26″ x 20″), King Sham (36″ x 20″), and Euro Sham (26″ x 26″).
Lesson Three: Shams Are All About The Styling
Though you can sleep on a sham, that’s not what they’re really intended for. As mentioned above, pillow cases are designed to be slept on and protect your pillows in the process, while shams are meant more for decoration. As the fabric used for shams is often textured, embroidered, or accented with other raised details, shams can be pretty uncomfortable to sleep on. As such, it is best to remove shams from your bed before sleep. This will also protect them and keep them clean from hair and oils from your skin. If you don’t want to remove shams from your bed entirely, a simple alternative is to place them behind your sleeping pillows when ready for bed.
So, where exactly do you place your shams? Like most interior design questions, there is no right answer, but we’ve outlined a few of the more common styling methods below:
Perhaps the simplest way to style shams is to stack them. Place your sleeping pillows on the bed first with cuffs pointed out toward the edges of the bed and then place your sham-covered pillows directly on top of them. This generally works best when you’re dealing with pillows of the same shape and size. Quick and effective, this popular method achieves great height and a clean, uniform look. Feel free to lean additional accent pillows against the stack for an added decorative touch.
Get the Look:
Layering is a great way to style shams when you’re dealing with pillows of different sizes, shapes, textures, and colors. To achieve the layered look, first lean your sleeping pillows lengthwise up against your headboard. Next, lean a row of sham-covered Euro size pillows against the sleeping pillows. In front of this second layer, place a couple of standard or king sized pillows, also dressed in shams. Finally, feel free to accessorize with decorative bolster, boudoir, or neck pillows in front.
Get the Look:
For a more organic, creative look, you can always style shams asymmetrically. Just follow the steps outlined in the layering method above, but keep larger pillows on one side of the bed and smaller pillows on the other. This option works best with pillows of the same (or similar) fabrics and colors.
Get the Look:
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