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October 07, 2022 5 min read

Do you know the difference between a pillow sham, a pillow protector, and a pillowcase? It may seem like just semantics, but these different types of pillow covers are unique from one another. Understanding what each one does is important for making sure you’re getting the right piece of bedding to make your perfect bed. Pillow shams, pillow protectors, and pillowcases are all pieces of bedding designed to fit various sizes of pillow. When buying luxury bedding, it is essential to pay attention to the differences between each type of pillow cover to ensure the most elevated look and feel. Pillow shams and cases are made by classic luxury bedding designers such as Matouk, Sferra, and Yves Delorme. Pillow protectors are made by designers like Peacock Alley and Scandia Home. Pillow shams, pillowcases, and pillow protectors come in many different colors fabrics, and patterns. They also serve very specific functions that set them apart from one another. Here’s what you need to know about each one:

What is a pillow sham?

A pillow sham is a decorative case that goes around the pillow. A sham is finished on all four sides with an opening at the back in which to tuck the pillow. This opening also ensures that the pillow is obscured when the bed is made. A pillow sham also typically has a "flange" or flap bordering the pillow on all four sizes. The size of the pillow sham's flange can vary, so be sure to read the product description carefully before ordering. When making a bed, pillow shams are typically placed in front of pillowcases on the made bed. 

When should I use a pillow sham? Though typically considered "decorative," luxury pillow shams from brands such as Matouk, Sferra, and Yves Delorme are soft enough to sleep on. If you prefer to sleep on pillowcases, pillow shams can be used as support behind your sleep pillows at night.

These protective covers are available in several sizes including Euro Shams (to cover large square pillows), King Shams, Queen Shams, and Standard Shams. In a luxury bedding setting, pillow shams are typically coordinated with the duvet or coverlet. Many are made of cotton sheeting, but quilted pillow shams are a popular alternative. For instance, look at the beautiful coordination between the Matouk Diamond Pique Shams and Diamond Pique Coverlet. Shop Fig Linens and Home's favorite white pillow shams below.

If you are looking for something special, like a monogrammed pillow sham, contact our team at

What is a pillowcase?

The main difference between a pillow sham and a pillowcase is that a pillowcase is a three-sided piece of fabric that slips over a pillow. A pillowcase will usually have a longer flap on the open end so that the pillow does not hang out. Pillowcases generally coordinate with the sheets. If there is a detail, it is typically on one side (take the coordinated Serena Sheets and Pillowcases by Matouk as an example). Pillowcases are usually sold in pairs, so you only have to worry about buying one pack. 

Pillowcases are considered bedding for sleeping. To ensure the best night's sleep, focus on the quality of bedding materials. Quality pillowcases made of 100% natural fibers like Sferra's Giza 45 Cotton Pillowcases (Available in White or Ivory) or Silk Charmeuse Pillowcase by Branché. Silk Pillowcases have the added benefits of preventing wrinkles, keeping skin hydrated, and helping to keep hair healthy. If you are worried about makeup or skincare product staining pillowcases, Fig Linens recommends using white linens like Sierra Hemstitch Pillowcases by Matouk or opting for something heavily patterned like Nikita Pillowcases by Lulu DK for Matouk where the stains will not be as visible. Alternatively, consider investing in a stain remover for luxury fabrics, like Stain Solution by The Laundress

Matouk Mirasol Azure Pillowcases Fig Linens and home difference between pillowcases and pillow shams
Fig Linens and Home: Matouk Mirasol Pillowc​​ases
Matouk Mirasol Azure Pillow Shams Fig Linens and home difference between pillowcases and pillow shams
Fig Linens and Home: Matouk Mirasol Pillow Shams​​

The images above display the Matouk Mirasol pillow shams and pillowcases. The image on the left shows a three-sided pillowcase with detail on one side. The image on the right shows a four-sided sham with detail on all four edges

The Difference Between Pillow Shams Pillow Protectors and Pillow Cases Fig Linens and Home

Can I sleep on a pillow sham?

Choosing whether to sleep on a pillow case or pillow sham is completely up to personal preference. Many pillow shams made by Matouk, Sferra, and Yves Delorme are made of 100% organic long-staple cotton that is soft on the skin and comfortable to sleep on. Others prefer using pillows covered by pillow shams as support beneath their pillows robed in pillowcases. It is completely up to you. If your preference is influenced by the size of the pillow you like to sleep on, we recommend putting a queen pillow in a standard sham whereas either a standard pillow or queen pillow will work inside a standard pillowcase. Thus, if you prefer a firmer feel, a pillow sham with a queen pillow inside might be the right option for you. When it comes to choosing a pillow cover for sleep, the world is your oyster!

What is a pillow protector?

A pillow protector has four sides like a pillow sham. It fits over your pillow and is complete with a zipper to secure the pillow inside. Pillow protectors are built to be durable and keep your pillow clean. They are designed to offer some protection against allergens, bacteria, and dust mites. Pillow protectors also help prevent stains on your pillows, which can be difficult to wash out. Typically, pillow protectors are wrapped around the pillow, which is then placed inside a pillow case or a pillow sham. Luxury pillow protectors are manufactured by designers such as Matouk, Peacock Alley, and Yves Delorme.

What is the importance of using a pillow protector? Pillow protectors are great for people who have allergies or sensitive skin or those who have kids at home and need to be able to wash the pillow protector often. If you’re looking for a way to protect your pillows from spills, accidents, and other mishaps, a pillow protector beneath your pillowcase or pillow sham might be the right choice for you! Shop the best pillow protectors below. 

How to insert your pillow into luxury pillow shams, pillowcases, and pillow protectors:

When dressing your bed in luxury pillow shams, pillowcases, and pillow protectors, it is important to take excellent care of the fabric. To best preserve the seams of your pillow shams, Fig Linens and Home recommends the "taco method" for stuffing your pillowcases. Use your forearm to "chop" the pillow down the middle, and pull the sides up around your arm. Then, with the sides tucked up, put your arm into the pillow sham or pillowcase. Do not release the sides of the pillow until the whole pillow is inside the case or sham. This method will preserve the seams of your pillowcases and pillow shams for years to come.

Speaking of pillows, pillow shams, cases, and protectors are all useless without one essential: the pillow. Are you still searching for the perfect pillow? Shop a range of firm and soft pillows here. A luxury sleep pillow is the key to a perfect night of ZZs. Fig Linens and Home carries King Pillows, Queen Pillows, and Standard Pillows in down and down-alternatives so that you can find the right pillow regardless of your preference, needs, or price range. 

sophie edwards content writer for fig linens and home

Sophie Edwards is the head content writer at Fig Linens and Home. She is a bedding, linens, and luxury homeware expert with an interest is the intersection of interior design with fashion, travel and culture. She has a BA in creative writing and sociology from Sarah Lawrence and an MSc from the Oxford University Department of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

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