Wednesday, 31 May, 2023

The Joy (and Anxiety) of Sleeping on $2,000 Sheets

As Wirecutter’s resident sheet tester, I’ve tried dozens of reasonably affordable sets for our guides to cotton, linen, and flannel sheets. But what..

As Wirecutter’s resident sheet tester, I’ve tried dozens of reasonably affordable sets for our guides to cotton, linen, and flannel sheets. But what if cost is truly no object? Do you actually get that much more for the money? To find out, back in 2018 I called in three of the highest-end sets I could find and put them through my full battery of testing: Frette’s Doppio Ajour (now around $1,350 for a queen set), Sferra’s Giotto (now around $1,200 for a queen set), and Sferra’s Giza 45 Sateen (now around $2,300 for a queen set).

Frette, founded in 1860, and Sferra, founded in 1891, are heritage brands pretty much synonymous with luxury whose sheets are often in high-end hotels and used by presidents, popes and royalty. Still, I was skeptical that any sheet was worth such a scary sum.

The Joy (and Anxiety) of Sleeping on $2,000 Sheets

Sferra Giza 45 Sateen Sheets

The price tag is incredible, but so is the quality on these heavenly, Italian-made sateen sheets.

Buying Options

$2267 $1814 from Sferra (Queen)

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How expensive sheets feel to sleep in

To put them to the test, I compared each high-end set with the upgrade cotton sheets we already recommend, the Cuddledown 400 Thread Count Sateen, which retail for around $200 for a queen set. I tested all of the luxury sets in sateen—it’s softer and more luxurious than percale so it seemed appropriate for this price bracket. All of the sheets I tried were beautifully made, with lovely details. But though the Frette Doppio Ajour and Sferra Giotto sets cost about six times as much as our upgrade sheet pick, they don’t feel five times better. The Giza 45, however, is absolutely 10 times better.

Comparing the more affordable cotton sets Wirecutter recommends with any of the three high-end sets I tried is like asking if you should buy a Honda or a Ferrari.

The Giza 45 sheets were splendid; clearly softer, thinner, and more supple than the others. They felt like silk. I couldn’t stop touching them, running my bare feet over them, and wiggling around on them. Sleep is already one of my favorite activities, and miraculously, a big part of my job, and these sheets made it even more joyous.

A graphic showing a closeup comparison to show the difference in luster
Sferra’s Giza 45 Sateen sheets (right) are made from the highest available grade of extra-long-staple Egyptian cotton, which gives them a natural sheen compared with the Cuddledown 400 (left). Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Comparing the more affordable cotton sets Wirecutter recommends with any of the three high-end sets I tried is like asking if you should buy a Honda or a Ferrari. Do you need a well-made, reliable car that’s comfortable, low maintenance, and long-lasting? Or do you want to invest in something impeccably engineered, a thrill to experience, but fussy and impractical? Owning luxury goods comes with pressure to maintain them. Family snuggles in bed were now interrupted by thoughts like, “How dirty is the dog?” and “Has my kid washed her hands recently?”

Why are luxury sheets so expensive?

Part of what made the Sferra Giza 45 rise above the other two luxe sets I tried is the quality of the cotton. Giza 45 is possibly the most exquisite cotton fabric currently being produced. It’s the highest-grade variety of Egyptian extra-long-staple cotton, known for its exceptional strength and softness. It’s rare and expensive, and is traditionally reserved for the finest men’s shirting; Sferra was the first company to use it for bed linens.

What makes Giza 45 so rare is the fineness of the material, in a literal sense. A strand of silk—the finest of all natural fibers used in textiles—is 1 denier (a measure of a fiber’s thickness and weight), and sheer tights can be as low as 5 denier. The Giza 45 set’s denier is about 1.05 (we calculated this based on the micronaire measurement that Sferra provided). The resulting sheets are almost impossibly thin and wispy, something I would normally flag as a sign they’ll wear out quickly, but I didn't have that concern here because of their superlative material quality and craftsmanship. After five years of continued testing I can say with confidence that these sheets are just as durable as any others we recommend.

The luxury sheets’ fabric was cut precisely and then stitched perfectly. Not just perfect to the naked eye, perfect to the millimeter.

Most sheets have finishes to make them feel smoother out of the packaging, which is why we recommend washing your sheets before you judge their natural feel. For example, the Cuddledown sheets are mercerized, meaning they’re treated with sodium hydroxide to soften them, prevent wrinkles, and limit shrinkage. Frette and Sferra told us in 2018 that they don’t use any chemical finishes in the final stages of production; the cotton is so fine and densely woven that it doesn’t need to rely on artificial finishes. Instead Frette (and, I suspect, Sferra, although I couldn’t confirm) calender the sheets—a process of feeding them through hot rollers to get them thin, flat, and very, very shiny. It’s like ironing turned up to 11. (Although, like ironing, the super-flat finish doesn’t last through a wash). All three sets were silky-soft, and my hands glided smoothly over the fabric during testing.

The corner seams side by side; the Giza sheets have a somewhat uncommon 90 degree interior seam
The luxury sheets (Giza 45 on the left) all had flat, mitered corners, lacy stitching, and the width of the seams was exact. The Cuddledown 400 (right) was well-constructed, but less refined. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

All of the luxury sheets had crisp, mitered corners, precise tiny stitches, and open, lacy detailing that would easily show any mistakes. But with these sheets, there were none. The width of the seams on the Sferra Giza 45 and Frette flat sheets were exactly the same all the way around. (I checked.) Cuddledown’s seams were wider, puckered, and, though the stitches looked fine, when measured, they weren’t an even width. That means that the luxury sheets’ fabric was cut precisely and then stitched perfectly. Not just perfect to the naked eye, perfect to the millimeter. I’ve been sewing for more than 15 years, and I can’t do that.

A closeup on the interior seam, which is open stitched
Every detail on the Frette sheets was impeccable—they’re tailored by career artisans to exacting specifications. You can’t hide mistakes with this type of open stitching, but there weren’t any. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

This level of construction takes a lot of sewing skill and great quality control. These sheets are not made, they’re tailored. Sferra told us during testing that it has two women whose only job is to hand-cut fabric, and that their team of sewers each specialize in a particular detail—the mitered corners, the hemstitch—so each is the absolute best at their particular task. Frette told us that it has exacting specifications for the formulations of each sheet, called a “recipe.” Many of the company’s artisans have made careers sewing linens and, for several, it’s a family skill passed down for generations.

The inconvenience of high-end sheets

The quality and price of the sheets made them very intimidating at first. I didn’t work up the courage to wash them for a few days. Like someone driving a Ferrari for the first time, I was instantly worried I would ruin them. I made my husband wash his hands before touching them. I moved all pens, toys, children, and pets far out of reach.

Another closeup on the Giotto's seam
The Sferra Giotto (seen here) and Frette Doppio Ajour sets felt very similar—they were both a crisper sateen that was very comfortable and cool, but wasn’t as soft as our upgrade pick, the Cuddledown 400. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

When I finally washed them, it highlighted some impracticalities. With the calendering washed away, the sheets looked less pristine and more accessible—they wrinkle just like any other cotton sheets. The Sferra Giotto and Frette Doppio Ajour both wrinkled more than the Cuddledown, possibly because they don’t use anti-wrinkle finishes. The Giza 45 set looked and felt the best out of the dryer.

It’s charming that these sheets feel designed for an Italian villa with a house staff ready to wash and hang them to dry in the sprawling garden. It was less charming to air-dry them over a shower rod in my bathroom.

Both sets of the Sferra sheets can be tumbled dry on low, and therefore washed by everyday mortals, but Frette’s terse care instructions, translated from Italian, are a list of things you shouldn’t do: Don’t bleach, don’t tumble dry, don’t dry clean, and don’t iron on the hottest cotton setting.

It’s charming that the Frette sheets feel designed for an Italian villa with a house staff ready to wash and hang them to dry in the sprawling garden. Frette even offers a white-glove service, which according to its website includes “on-site ironing, bed dressing, and estate staff training.” The whole endeavor felt less charming when I actually had to air-dry them, draped over a shower rod and towel bars in my bathroom. It took a day and a half. My day-to-day life has a devastating lack of sun-drenched villas.

A closeup on a slightly wrinkled corner of the Doppio Ajour
Once washed, even the luxury sheets looked slightly less pristine. The Frette Doppio Ajour (seen here) and Sferra Giotto both wrinkled more than the Cuddledown 400. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

A Frette representative told me in 2018 that the care instructions may be overly cautious because dryers are somewhat of a rarity in Italy, but that it’s probably fine to tumble dry the sheets on low. But when buying sheets this expensive, I wonder who would feel comfortable defying the care label. According to the company, Frette linens have been used on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and have dressed the beds of more than 500 European royal families. If Frette tells you to do something, you do it.

If you want them to feel as luxe as sheets in this price bracket should, you also must iron or steam them. That’s pretty high maintenance for something you’re going to sleep on (I didn’t do this during testing—I spend a lot of time ironing but I draw the line at my sheets).

Are $$$ sheets worth the $$$?

A closeup on the Giza pillowcase
We couldn’t stop touching the soft, supple fabric on the Giza 45 set. Each strand of this rare and expensive variety of cotton is nearly as fine as silk, the thinnest of all natural fibers. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The “less expensive” luxury sets could be worth the splurge if your sleep priorities are intricate detailing, fine construction, a lack of chemical finishes, and the experience of owning sheets from a heritage brand; just don’t expect them to be more comfortable than a good-quality mid-priced set. They weren’t softer or cozier than the Cuddledown sheets. My husband didn’t even notice right away that I’d changed them. He prefers the Cuddledown sheets, and after watching my constant worry about the luxury sets, he was unimpressed. “I like spending money on things that make my life easier, not harder,” he told me.

But for the best of the best, at a very luxurious price Sferra’s Giza 45 Sateen sheets are superior to every other sheet I’ve tried. Ever. Five years since I first reported this story, these sheets have held up extremely well, and we’ve included them in the notable competition in our guide to cotton sheets. I’ve washed them countless times, and they have been tumbled in the dryer for many hours over the years. They’ve only gotten softer and smoother, worn in enough that the wrinkles of their youth have started to fade as the cotton fibers soften and relax (if only we could all age in reverse like that). They’ve stretched a little over time, which I’m sure could’ve been avoided if I fussed enough to iron them regularly, or even starched them to help keep their shape.

But, after all this time, when the Giza 45 sheets go on the bed, my husband—a luxury sheet skeptic—can immediately tell which sheets they are. He’s endured years of trying different sheets for my job, and most of them are “fine.” The Sferra sheets have left such a mark on him that he recently sent me a picture while on a work trip of boxes of sheets getting delivered to his nice hotel. He peeked and confirmed that they were all from Sferra. “I could tell as soon as I got in bed that they were great sheets, and then I saw the Sferra boxes and I knew,” he told me. At home, the Giza 45 sheets get a little smile from him every time I put them on our bed, just a hint that something special is happening. That’s what luxury looks like.