Tuft and Needle wood bed frame and mattress made in charcoal bedding

What is a Bed Sham?

February 25, 2020

Author: Josie Sivigny

We’re all familiar with pillow cases, but have you heard of bed shams? If you’re thinking that a it’s some kind of outdated linen you’re mistaken. Curious to learn more? Read on for our guide to bed shams and all things decorative in the bedroom.

Corner of a bed with pillows on it and a plant hanging over a table next to it

What is a bed sham?

Put simply, a bed sham is a decorative pillow case meant to add character to your standard sleep setup. Often they are used on decorative pillows that are placed on the bed during the day, and removed when you go to sleep at night. Traditionally, bed shams are thought to be frilly, outdated linens favored by the interior decorators of yesteryear, but for the aesthetically-minded, decorative pillows are a must-have for any bedroom.

What does it look like?

Bed shams come in standard pillow sizes but they are anything but regular. They can range in style from your grandmother’s lace-bordered pillowcases to muted accent pieces with subtle stitching. What most have in common is a false, decorative front side and a simple back side fastened with over-lapped fabric, a hidden zipper, or buttons to ensure a snug fit. They can come as part of a duvet cover set or be purchased separately to add a little flair to your sleep setup.

Bed made with blue flower and butterfly bedding with large wood headboard on the wall

The History

The term bed sham or pillow sham originated in the 18th century to describe “trick” pillow cases with false fronts. These decorative pillows were made by skilled artisans, often incorporating needlework and applique. Over time, the term has come to include quilting, lace, heavy stitching, and patchwork.

What are they good for?

While bed sham is really just a word to describe a fancy pillowcase, these decorative linens are not ideal for sleeping on. Unlike standard cotton or tencel pillowcases, bed shams are often constructed from heavier fabrics or knits and adorned with applique, lace, or quilting—making them less than ideal sleep partners. Instead, you can think of them like a fancy jacket for your bed. Not only can a decorative pillow make your made bed look polished, but they can also tie a room together by incorporating an accent color or design that fits with the rest of your interior decor.

How should I style my bed shams?

When it comes to decorative pillows, our favorite look is the asymmetrical or mis-matched design. This means stacking up your bed with pillows of different sizes and shapes adorned with bed shams of your choice. You don’t need to go crazy with different colors or styles, but a diverse sleep setup can add a little extra character to your room. Thinking of a more classic look? You can keep your sleep setup looking minimal and polished by adding just two bed shams that sit nicely on top of your regular pillows.

What pillows should I use with my bed shams?

If you decide to DIY your bed shams, you can fit your designs to any pillow of your choosing. However, most bed shams come in standard pillow sizes, meaning that most regular pillows can be used with them. Whatever your preference, a firmer pillow is usually a better option when it comes to decorative accent pieces because they tend to hold their shape better. Our original foam pillows are a great option if you’re looking to fill a standard size. Foam pillows can also double as headrests when you’re lounging or reading in bed.

Side view of a bedroom with large wood furniture, a large bed made in white and black bedding and a wood chandelier hanging over the bed. Room has a lot of windows.

Do I need bed shams?

Asking whether you need a bed sham is sort of like deciding whether or not to paint your yellow walls white. You don’t need to update the design of your bedroom, but adding a little extra something to your sleep setup can make all the difference when it comes to elevating your home decor. Not only that, but bed shams are an affordable, easy way to change the mood of your bedroom. You can even DIY your own if you’re on a budget, and fit them to whichever pillows you like.

Check out our linen shams and percale shams for a cozy, decorative touch to your space.

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