On trend now is a clutch of gentle neutrals in creamy beige, silvery greys and fresh summery aquas, all dancing with tucks, pleats and embroidery. And if you need to justify the expense, remember Mrs Beeton's advice: "Always buy good quality even if the amount bought has to be restricted — it will wear well, and be the cheapest in the end."
How to spot top quality
There's a lot of hype about "thread counts" — simply the number of threads woven up and across (the warp and the weft) per square inch. In theory, the more threads, the finer the weave. A thread count of about 180-200 is widespread, and is well established for many quality linens.
Now you'll find bed linens labelled with a thread count of 800 or more but these can use very fine yarns (each one counted) twisted together to make a single thread and it is those threads you should count.
"There are lots of things about quality sheets that are more important than thread count — for example the weave," says Prune Allain des Beauvais, of Yves Delorme, a five-generation French bedding company. "Percale sheets are strong and long-lasting with a crisp, fresh feel, while sateen has a lustrous satin finish and a softer feel which reflects the light."
Her company has just moved its store in Duke of York Square, SW3, a few doors along the street. It also has a large showroom in Harrods (yvesdelorme.co.uk).
Is Egyptian cotton always best?
Egyptian cotton is best, usually, thanks to its long fibres (or "staples"), which can be woven into a stronger, finer and more lustrous fabric than, say, pima cotton, which is grown in Peru. Confusingly though, Egyptian cotton can now come from other countries, so look for labels that say "100 per cent Egyptian cotton". Many of those labelled simply "Egyptian" contain only one per cent cotton from Egypt.
Linen, woven from flax, has a slightly coarse feel but gets softer every time it is washed. It's about three times as strong as cotton, and wicks moisture away from the body. Silk is ultra-smooth and a little bit slippery, but it helps to lock moisture into your skin and hair. Some people swear it is as good as a night cream in holding wrinkles at bay.
Jacquards have a woven pattern (typically damask). Seersucker has a crinkly, retro look, and flannelette is the cosiest thing in winter.
Standard size for a British pillowcase is 48cm by 76cm. A "housewife" pillowcase is a plain fabric envelope, for a modern, tailored look. Oxford pillowcases have a "flange" of fabric all around them and these should be mitred at the corner. Explore the options on Ypeterreed.com. Also check out YBelledorm on achica.com.
YFrench-brand.com was founded in France in 1985, and now sells top fashion brands from many countries. Gaining ground is the continental square pillow size of 65cm by 65cm.
Choosing duvet covers
Beware of uncomfortable closings on duvets. Zips are probably easiest to sleep with but can jam so on balance poppers beat zips or buttons.
Jot down your bed size before you shop or order off a website. A single bed is 90 cm wide (3ft); a double bed is 135cm wide (4ft 6ins); a king-size bed is 150cm wide (5ft); and a super king is 180cm (6ft). Standard depth for a fitted sheet is 25cm, though you can find 28cm.
CHOOSING QUALITY BEDWARE: TOP TIPS
* Invest in a top sheet — it's lovely when you dump the duvet in a heat wave, and cuts down on washing bulky duvet covers.
* Use a mattress protector and under-slips on pillowcases — both are available at John Lewis.
* Don't overload your washing machine or dryer — you'll wear out your linens.
* Don't use too much detergent — this can cause streaks. Wash deep colours on their own, and (except for whites) use a "colour-safe" detergent to avoid fading.