What's The Difference Between A Pillowcase And A Pillow Sham?

Strolling through the bedroom section of a home decor store, you're bound to see a wide variety of pillows and coverings, likely separated into two distinct categories: pillowcases and pillow shams. The former is a covering for your pillow designed to be slept upon, while the latter is an additional covering intended primarily for decorative use.

Though pillowcases and shams can look similar or bear the same design, the two are fairly easy to pick apart. Pillowcases are generally open on one side for users to easily remove and reinsert the pillow when washing. On the other hand, shams feature a zipper on one side or come equipped with an opening in the cover's center, giving homeowners a bit of a challenge when it comes to removing them. Shams are traditionally paired with pillowcases when styling a bed, placed in front of the pillows donning traditional cases until bedtime.

While pillow shams aren't by any means a necessary addition to a bed, they can contribute to a room's overall aesthetic by matching other design elements or creating a visually-appealing contrast. Here's more on the difference between pillowcases and shams.


Pillowcases are coverings meant to keep pillows free of dirt and grease while in use, keeping you from having to frequently wash or replace them. Pillowcases are usually made of silk, satin, polyester, or cotton — materials generally soft enough to avoid damaging your face and hair when sleeping on them. Cotton is a typical choice for most households since the fabric is affordable and usually lasts longer than the pricier options. But, silk and satin have developed into popular alternatives, as the fabrics have proved to offer greater benefits to your skin and hair, helping your body maintain its natural oils by absorbing less moisture when compared to other pillowcases. Washing your silk or satin pillowcases can be a more tedious chore for users, however, since both materials are more likely to sustain damage when placed in a standard washer and dryer.

Though pillowcases are usually more simple when compared to their more embellished counterparts, they're available in multiple colors and patterns that are more than capable of adding life and character to a space singlehandedly. Pillowcases are commonly found in packaged sets, along with a fitted sheet and flat sheet for your mattress. You can also purchase pillowcases individually or in sets of two, four, or even larger quantities.

Pillow shams

Because pillow shams aren't designed for sleep in the way pillowcases are, comfort isn't taken into account as much when selecting components to make them. These casings can consist of high-end materials, like cashmere or satin, or of more simple fabrics, like linen or polyester. Shams also tend to match the duvet cover or comforter they're paired with and commonly feature decorative additions like beads, ruffles, and fringes that might make sleeping uncomfortable. However, they could add a stylish touch to a bedroom's design.

Shams are typically offered in four sizes: boudoir, standard, Euro, and king. As the name suggests, a standard sham fits snugly over a standard pillow, which has dimensions of 20 by 26 inches. Other sham sizes require special pillows to fit inside them, so be mindful of this extra cost when designing your space.

Pillow shams don't have to be used solely for decoration, though. These pillows can also offer additional support when sitting up in bed throughout the day. Even if you choose not to sleep on or use your shams as often as you use your pillowcases, still wash them regularly with your other bed linens to prevent them from becoming dirty or musty.