Last summer, my family spent a week in Italy, in a rented villa surrounded by vineyards. We took in Venetian art, admired classic race cars and, like the Italians, hung our clothes to dry in the summer sun. It wasn’t my first trip to Italy, but it was the grandest. Then we came down off of our prosecco high and went back to our real lives in New Jersey. My most recent Wirecutter assignment—to sleep on three sets of $1,000+ Italian sheets—reminded me of that trip.
As Wirecutter’s resident sheet tester, I’ve tried dozens of reasonably affordable sets for our guides to cotton and flannel sheets. But what if cost is truly no object? Do you actually get that much more for the money? To find out, I called in three of the highest-end sets I could find: Frette’s $1,100 Doppio Ajour, Sferra’s $1,000 Giotto, and Sferra’s $2,000 Giza 45 Sateen.
Sferra and Frette are heritage Italian brands pretty much synonymous with luxury. Sferra was founded in 1891, and its sheets can be found in places like the Thompson Hotel in Chicago. Frette was founded in 1860 and feels more old-world; its sheets are found in Ritz Carlton hotels and at the St. Regis, and its linens have been used by presidents, popes, and royalty. Still, I was skeptical that any sheet was worth such a scary sum.
To put them to the test, I compared each high-end set with the upgrade cotton sheets we already recommend, the $200 Cuddledown 400 Thread Count Sateen. 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 $1,000 Frette Doppio Ajour and Sferra Giotto sets cost about five times as much as our upgrade sheet pick, they don’t feel five times better. The $2,000 Giza 45, however, is absolutely 10 times better.
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.
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 6-year-old washed her hands recently?” It turns out that my anxiety can’t stay at vacation levels forever.
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 finest 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 is 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 don’t have that concern here because of their superlative material quality and craftsmanship.
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 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.
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 a decade, and I can’t do that.
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 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 quality and price of the sheets made them very intimidating. 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.
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.
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 these 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. We recently sold our house in New Jersey and are temporarily renting an apartment in Washington. I fantasized about having a yard again, and drying these sheets on a clothesline, gently blowing in the breeze. But what would I do during Seattle’s nine-month rainy season? My day-to-day life has a devastating lack of sun-drenched villas.
A Frette representative told me 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. 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).
The $1,000 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 more comfortable 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 $2,000, Sferra’s Giza 45 Sateen sheets are superior to every other sheet I’ve tried. Ever. Like my family’s stay at that Italian villa, the Giza 45 sheets made my bed feel like a luxurious vacation, even if I still needed to wake up the next morning and take the dog out for a pee.
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