Pillow Talk: Understand Shams, Cushions, and Pillow

Here’s a breakdown of what each type of decorative pillow actually is, so that you don’t find yourself having a panic attack in the corner of store. Just kidding—that didn’t actually happen. OR DID IT?

At most high-end retailers, pillows (the inside, stuffing part) and covers (the outside, decorative part) are always sold separately (not as one stuffed, ready-made decorative piece, like a big throw pillow). Spend on the cushion cover, since that’s the part you see—the inner filler can be purchased anywhere and isn’t important as these pillows are just for decoration, not for sleeping. There are two primary types of decorative pillows for your bed:


Shams are the pillows that usually go right in front of the headboard, and they often match your duvet or quilt. They’re not meant for sleeping on, just decoration. They’re different from a basic pillowcase in that they have flanges around the edges, and are meant to add color/texture to anchor the rest of your pillow collection. There are three sizes: standard shams (around 20″ by 26″), king shams (around 20″ by 36″), and European shams (which are square, around 26″ by 26″ or larger).


The smaller decorative pillows that often go in front of your pillow collection are actually commonly called cushions, but you might know them as decorative or throw pillows. Cushions are generally square and vary in size: 18,” 20,” and 24″. Some high-end retailers also have larger cushions in 50″ by 50″ and 65″ by 65″ sizes. But if you don’t have a king-size bed, I wouldn’t recommend it (unless you’re using one in place of a European sham).


Here’s a bed above to serve as an example so you can see the pillows in action. Shown here:

In the back: European shams (square)

In front of the Euro shams: standard pillow (rectangular)

In front, sides: cushions (rectangular)

In front, center:  cushion (square)

As for the pillows you actually sleep on, those would generally be placed in front of the shams and before the cushions. In the example above there are only decorative pillows for the sake of this explanation.

Does that clear things up? Did you already know the difference between all of these common pillow types?

Spring Hometextile is a leading manufacturer of waterproof mattress protector and pillow & duvet supplier in China.

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