It’s time to put the controversy to rest.
Some people appreciate the top sheet as a layer of bedding that keeps their duvet cover clean, while others see it as an unnecessary expense that just ends up tangled at the end of the bed. The choice of top sheet or no top sheet may seem an inconsequential decision (I mean, we have more important topics to discuss, don’t we?), but when it was brought up in an editors’ meeting the other day, we quickly learned that people have strong opinions on this relatively trivial matter. To find out if there really is a “right way” to make the bed, we dug into the little-known history of bed linens and asked some bedding experts for their stance on the issue.
According to traditional European-style bedding, a duvet and a fitted bottom sheet is all a well-made bed needs, while American-style bedding adds a flat sheet (the “top sheet”) in between. While many regard the top sheet as superfluous, others can’t sleep without it. At one time, all sheets were flat sheets, created without pockets or elastic, which were wrapped around the mattress. That is, until 1959, when Bertha Berman patented a design for a fitted sheet with elastic pockets that tucked around the edges of the mattress. Berman’s design took off and can now be found on beds around the world.
If you like the concept of a fitted sheet, but aren’t a fan of its tendency to gather at the end of the bed, you might have appreciated William Edwin Root’s 1977 invention: the fitted top sheet and blanket combo. Similar to a fitted sheet, Root’s design had elastic at the bottom corners to hold it in place (presto, no more twisted sheets!) and a fold near the bottom that could be unsnapped to provide more foot room. It may sound brilliant, but for whatever reason, the fitted sheet-top sheet hybrid never gained popularity.
Traditionally, when only a fitted sheet is used, a duvet is the preferred topper, because the cover can be easily washed. But when a top sheet is added, blankets and comforters that are harder to clean can be used, because the middle sheet serves as a hygienic buffer. So, is it uncleanly to snuggle under a duvet without a protective top sheet? It all depends on how frequently you wash your duvet. Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference, what you’re used to, and how often you’re willing to wash your bedding.
Still curious how experts in the bedding and design world feel about the matter? We reached out to a few key players to find out.
You May Be Too Low-Maintenance for a Top Sheet
“I love a top-sheet visually, but typically find them kicked to the bottom of the bed or strangling ankles. It’s like decorative pillows on the bed—they look pretty, but ultimately I’m too lazy and low-maintenance to deal with making the bed, so they cause me more stress than comfort.”—Emily Henderson, interior designer and stylist. Check out her beautiful L.A. home here to see her stunning, laid-back style in action.
Your Partner Could Influence the Decision
“I run hot and my husband is always shivering, swathed in cashmere socks with a hot water bottle nearby. For us a top sheet is a necessary tool to help us regulate our temperature disparities. I can be burning up under just the top sheet while he’s arctic under every blanket in the house. This way, we’re both equally miserable!”—Jonathan Adler, potter, designer, and author. If you’re looking for a chic duvet to pair with your top sheet, he offers a few stylish options.
Why Pay for Something You Don’t Want?
“At Parachute, we consider the top sheet a personal option—there for the taking, but only if you want it. And I personally don’t. It feels like an unnecessary extra layer, and when I sleep with a top sheet, it usually ends up tangled at the foot of my bed! Because 40 percent of Americans sleep without a top sheet, we offer this item separate from our sheet sets. Why pay for something you might not use?”—Ariel Kaye, founder and CEO of Parachute, a home brand known for its modern bedding (pictured above). Their percale, sateen, and linen sheet sets all come sans top sheet.
Your Choice May Change With the Seasons
“There’s no right and wrong when it comes to the top sheet—it's just a matter of preference! Top sheets can be especially nice in the summertime when you want to use a light blanket and top sheet combination instead of a comforter or duvet cover, but in the winter, you may opt out of using the top sheet all together! People have all kinds of preferences when it comes to their sleep, so we try to accommodate whatever their preferences may be.”—Vicki Fulop, co-founder and CCO of Brooklinen. If you’re deciding to ditch the top sheet, choose a Starter Sheet Set ($95) that comes with two pillowcases and a fitted sheet, or if you’re pro-top-sheet, opt for the Classic Core Sheet Set ($129).
It Defeats the Point of a Duvet
“A duvet floats over your body. A top sheet ruins the lightness of the duvet if you tuck it in, or it drapes messily over the bed if you don't. Either way, it complicates bed-making, which could otherwise be as simple as standing at the foot of the bed and flicking the duvet back into place. The final insult is waking in the night with the sheet wound around your legs. A top sheet is necessary with blankets, and fine by itself on hot nights (though I prefer a summer cover), but downright counterproductive with a European-style, loose-covered duvet.”—Tricia Rose, founder of Rough Linen. She ditches the top sheet, but you can find her favorite bed linen right here.
Sometimes It’s Extra-Cozy
“We both love a top sheet! It's part of the multi-layer approach that we have for everything and there is nothing like getting into a well-made bed that has all the necessary parts to make it a cozy retreat at day's end.”—Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Nicholas, principal interior designers at Cloth & Kind Interiors.