Standard Sham Sizes and Guidelines (with Drawings)

Shopping for pillow shams can be confusing because they are an item that is somewhat misunderstood by many people. Here we will look at exactly what a pillow sham is and what you should use it for.

We will also look at the standard pillow sham sizes available and what bed sizes these are appropriate for to help make shopping for pillow shams a stress-free experience.

What is a Pillow Sham?

What is a Pillow Sham?

A pillow sham is a decorative cover that is used over the top of a pillow. It protects the inner pillow from make-up, sweat, or spillages, and it also creates a more attractive look for the bed. The word ‘sham’ may seem like an unusual term for this type of bedding item, but there is actually a perfectly understandable explanation behind this name.

The word ‘sham’ refers to a trick or something which is not what it seems to be. The pillow sham was designed to look like a decorative cushion but conceals a pillow that you would sleep on, therefore making it a ‘sham.’

Pillow Shams Vs. Pillow Cases

Many people use the words’ pillow sham’ and ‘pillowcase‘ interchangeably, but these are actually two different types of bedding that have distinct differences that separate them apart from one another.

A pillowcase is usually a thin and soft material that is made to fit over a pillowcase. It is typically of quite a simple design, with an opening at one end that folds over to hold the pillow in, or in some cases, there will be buttons to secure the case closed.

Pillowcases are what are usually included in the set when you buy a set of bed sheets, along with a duvet cover. The pillowcases enclose the pillows, and these are what your head rests on while you sleep.

A pillow sham, by comparison, is usually more decorative and typically comes in a thicker material with embellishments or embroidery. Pillow shams most commonly have an opening in the middle on the back of the pillow, which might be secured with ribbon ties, or it can be left open. These are the types of pillow covers that might match a comforter or quilt, and they do not come in a set with bed linen.

Pillow shams have a more ornamental look than pillowcases, and they are not intended to be slept on (although they can be slept on if you wish). You might layer the sham pillow underneath a pillowcase pillow when sleeping or remove it from the bed completely. The function of the pillow sham is more decorative as opposed to functional.

Standard Pillow Sham Sizes

Standard Pillow Sham Sizes

The sizing of pillow shams is in line with standard pillow sizes. This means that anyone can buy a pillow sham to match the size of their bed with minimal confusion. Standard sham sizes are:


Standard-sized pillows are used on twin beds or full-sized beds. These measure 20 inches in height and 26 inches in width. A standard-sized sham will have a pillow compartment the same size as this, though some shams have a decorative border or frills, which can make the total size of the sham case a few inches bigger.


Queen beds have a wider measurement, and therefore if you want to avoid gaps at the head of your bed, you will need queen-size pillows. A queen-size pillow measures 20 inches in height and 30 inches in width. A queen-size sham pillow will have the same dimensions.


King size pillows are used on king size beds so that the pillows cover the entire width of the bed. These pillows measure 20 inches in height and 36 inches in width. King size pillow shams will also measure 20 inches by 36 inches for a snug fit.

Euro Sham

Euro shams are cushion covers that look much like pillow shams, but they are square. They are designed to cover throw pillows for the bed, and as such, will usually match comforters or bed quilts.

They can be layered on top of pillowcases for a decorative look to coordinate the bedding together. Euro shams are popular in Europe and come in standard square sizes of 26 x 26 inches and 32 x 32 inches.

How to Decorate with Pillow Shams

Pillow shams can be used however you like to decorate a bedroom, but there are a few ways that are favored by stylists and homeowners.


You can decorate with your pillow shams by stacking pillowcase pillows on top of each other and then finally stacking your pillow sham-covered pillow on top. This makes for a neat look that allows you to see the edges of all of the pillowcases, as well as the top of the pillow sham cover.

It also makes it easy for you to simply remove the pillow sham pillow when it’s time to get in bed, so you can snuggle right in without having to rearrange your pillows.


If you spend time sitting in your bed, for example, reading or watching TV, then layering the pillows at the head of the bed to make a backrest is a good option. Use pillows with a pillowcase as the base pillows, arranging them in a slightly diagonal angle, leaning back against the headboard.

Continue layering with as many pillows as you like; more pillows will make for a more luxurious look and feel. Use the pillows covered with a pillow sham as the front pillows for the layers.


Sham pillows don’t have to be used on the bed, and actually, it can be fun to mix them up and use them elsewhere in the bedroom to help create a coordinated and cohesive style.

If you have a bench in your bedroom, an armchair, or a window seat, prop your sham pillow on one of these pieces of furniture. This will tie the seating furniture in with the matching quilt or comforter on the bed.