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I don’t think anyone asks themselves, “What is a bed sham?” until they’ve gone to the department store and gotten lost in the bedding section. Words like bed sham and duvet may not even enter your vocabulary until you find yourself registering for a wedding and end up confounded by all of the new household accessories to choose from.
As you transition into adulthood, you may find yourself decorating your new home with a little bit more style. If you’re asking yourself “What is a bed sham?”, then you may just be excited to discover all of the decorating options they open up for you in your bedroom.
So, What Is a Bed Sham?
In short, a bed sham is a decorative pillow case that transforms regular pillows into accessories to make one’s bedding set more stylish. It’s one of the many pieces of bedding that can be used to spruce up your room.
The term “pillow sham” stems from the notion of a trick. Bed shams were initially known as false front pillows when they came into fashion in the 1700s. Women sewed with removable decorative fronts to create decorative pillows with removable covers.
Since then, people have continued to use shams as part of their bedding sets to turn standard-sized pillows into decorative pieces.
Millennials, however, may not be using shams as much as previous generations. Perhaps they find bed shams a bit outdated or excessive. Maybe they simply can’t afford any luxury purchases.
Either way, perhaps it’s time to re-examine how simple it is to add a pop of color or texture to your room with a simple bed sham.
Shams vs. pillows
You more pragmatic types might be asking yourselves many questions at this point. Exactly what is a bed sham used for? Isn’t a bed sham just a pillow?
The answer is both yes and no.
Pillowcases and shams both cover pillows. However, regular pillowcases usually open at one end and are made of simple sheet fabric.
Bed shams, on the other hand, are typically made of fancier fabrics that match or compliment your duvet or coverlet. They often have a slit in the middle of their backs that close with an overlapping length of fabric to give them a more decorative feel.
Bed shams are great for extra support when reading or sitting up in bed. It all depends on whether you like having the extra pillows take up space on your bed or not.
Can you sleep on a sham?
While you technically could sleep on shams, they’re meant to tie together your bed set rather than be comfortable or supportive when sleeping.
Many bed sham pillows are firmer or over-stuffed. This way, they provide more support as they prop you up in bed, making them perfect for reading or working on your laptop. But they can cause a crick in your neck if you try to sleep on them.
Bed shams may also have more decorative features, like zippers or sequins. As a result, they may be a bit uncomfortable when you settle in for a snooze.
When deciding if bed shams are for you, you also have to consider if you want to taking them off the bed each night before you hit the hay and rearranging them again each morning.
How to Pick the Right Sham
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No need to wander the bedding department asking yourself, “what is a bed sham?” Traditional decorative bedding sets typically have a bedspread or duvet cover and two matching pillow shams made from the same fabric. You coordinate this set with your sheet set which includes a flat sheet, a fitted sheet, and two sleeping pillowcases.
But if you’re looking to define your own style, we have a few tips to help you along the way.
The outer edges of the pillow shams usually have a flange or pipping. That way, shams seem larger than standard pillows. Traditionally, young women practiced weaving lace and using those pieces as the edges for their shams. These days, they are usually simply an extension of the material used for the face of the bed sham.
Quirkier designs may have tassels or pompoms as borders. There are many different styles to choose from.
You can either pick shams that complement your bedding or make a striking contrast. They intend to add color and texture to the room.
You want to avoid using the identical fabric or color on shams and sheets in order to get the depth you’re looking for.
Measuring up the situation
Bed shams come in a variety of sizes, depending on the size of your bed. Most commonly, you can find three industry-standard sizes.
A standard sham is 26 inches by 20 inches to fit a standard pillow.
A king sham is 36 inches by 20 inches and works well for both queen and king pillows.
A Euro shame, or European pillow sham, fits the large square 26-inch by 26-inch pillows used for decoration and as extra support while reading a book in bed. These also look great on your couch or love seat.
For a standard or queen size bed, you typically use two pillow shams behind your pillows. If you have a king size bed, you can use two king-size shams. You can also opt for three standard shams to add some extra panache to the back row.
Open and closed case
Traditionally, shams have an envelope style closure. A filler pillow slides in through a slit on the back of the bed sham. As a result, the closure is hidden at the back of the pillow, and only the decorative front and edges show.
You can also find sham closures that are decorative ties or buttons. Similarly, many shams may have a hidden zipper closure. In most cases, this gives the sham a closer fit around the pillow.
Treat yourself to the finer things
The best pillow shams are luxurious fabrics, such as silk, cashmere, or Egyptian cotton. That’s not just because they will look better. These materials hold up better than shams made of rough or flimsy materials.
Be sure to get pillow shams that are durable enough to hold their shape while supporting you. You’ll also want materials that are soft and inviting.
How to Style with Shams
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What is a bed sham worth to your decor unless you know how to style it?
The truth is, you can choose as many or as few bed shams and pillows as you want, to add a little flair to your bedroom.
While there are two basic styles — stacked and layered — there are no hard and fast design rules for arranging your pillows and shams. You can create original combinations using whatever design inspires you.
Using these basic styles as a starting point, the options for arranging your decorative pillow are endless!
Pile on the pillows
This one is probably the simplest arrangement.
Start by laying your sleeping pillows flat against the mattress. Typically, you’ll point the cuffs outward toward the edges of the bed.
Then stack pillows with decorative bed shams on top of them. That creates an easy-to-assemble but pleasing arrangement in no time. It also allows the bed shams to protect your sleeping pillows from dust throughout the day.
Some then choose to lean decorative accent pillows against the stack. But if you’re going for a more minimalist look, you can skip them.
Lay it all out
You start with a larger foundation in the back and work your way towards smaller pillows in front. This style allows you to display pillows of different sizes, fabrics, textures, and colors in an eye-catching arrangement.
You can layer shams in front of or behind sleeping pillows. It’s really up to your individual taste.
For example, you could start by leaning your sleeping pillows against the headboard. Be sure to place the cuffs toward the edge of the bed. Putting them at the back allows the layers of pillows to protect them.
In the next layer, place two or three Euro-sized pillows, dressed in shams, in a neat or overlapping row. Next, place two standard or king sized pillows, also in shams, in front.
Finally, add a bolster, neck roll, lumbar pillow, or any mixture of small decorative pillows into the front row, if desired. Subsequently, these smaller pillows can be used throughout the night to relieve joint pain.
You can easily tailor this look to fit as many or as few decorative pillows as you like. By mixing and matching pieces, you now have infinite design possibilities.
All for one
What is a bed sham? Now that you’ve answered the burning question, you’re all set to mix and match at your artistic will. Use any bedding guide to help you decide which pillows work best for your style.
Perhaps you’re feeling a little unsure about which sham design is for you. You can always try shopping for a set. Lots of designers put together their favorite looks to make the job easier for you.
Say you’ve picked a color for your room, and you’d like to stay in the same color palette. You can try looking for mono-color sets to match your theme.
If you don’t know where to begin your bedroom makeover, you can try starting with a colorful bedding set to get your inspiration.
Ready, Set, Design!
The next time someone is registering for their wedding and asks you: “What is a bed sham?” we hope you’ll have the information to help guide them through the bedding department with style.
Pillows shams allow you to show your creativity and eye for design in your bedroom without a lot of work. In the end, you’ll have an inviting retreat after a long day.
What are your favorite pillows sham arrangements? Let us know in the comments below.