While people tend to get mired down in thread counts and dimensions, the first consideration in choosing a luxurious sheet is the fiber. While "linens" is the term historically used to mean bed sheets, most sheets today are cotton. Linen sheets maintain a crisp, cool feel between washings, but are incredibly expensive, required detailed ironing after washing, and may be a little more "crisp" than most of us would enjoy. Conversely, silk has a soft, smooth, almost slick feel, and is lightweight and durable. Silk contains cellular albumen, and some believe that it promotes younger looking skin. Because of it's expense and delicate nature, silk is not a practical choice for most American homes. You are not likely to find linen or silk sheets at your local department or specialty stores, but they are available online.
Cotton, poly-cotton, and rayon-cotton blends are commonly available and come in a wide range of colors and thread counts. The most important consideration in choosing a cotton sheet is the type of cotton. Traditional American cotton is a short staple cotton, meaning the individual fibers are shorter than Egyptian cotton, the original long staple fiber. Longer fibers, created by nature through a cadence of moisture and temperature fluctuations during the growing season, give the final fabric a smoother hand and greater durability. Of course, good ole American ingenuity has created strains of long staple cotton that can be grown right here in the US of A, so you can't rely on country of origin labels alone. "Egyptian Cotton" is grown in Egypt, and, due to the climate there, will always be of high quality. You can find sheets made of long staple cotton grown outside of Egypt, and it will typically be labelled "pima", "Supima®", or "long staple cotton".
You still with me? Now that you have chosen a fiber (long staple cotton, remember?) it's time to choose a fabric. (Home Ec 101: fabrics are made of fiber. Fiber is the raw material, fabric is the finished product.) Most commonly in American stores you will find percale, sateen, and damask, specifically damask stripe, which is an alternation of a sateen weave. Confused? Don't be, as these terms are not super important. Percale is typically a bit "crisper" than sateen, for those who like a more linen-like sleeping experience. Sateen is a bit "softer", for those who like the feel of silk and the practicality of cotton. 80% of the sheets you see in a store will be sateen.
Now... lets talk about the ubiquitous thread count... it will be emblazoned all over the package! Woven from Egyptian or pima cotton, any thread count from about 400 and higher will feel much the same, although logic might say that the higher thread count would wear better. In a percale, a higher thread count would give a somewhat smoother feel, more like a sateen. And in a sateen, a higher thread count makes the fabric feel more like silk.
So, now that you are totally confused, should you buy a set, or individual sheets and cases? Were you really expecting an easy answer to that?
Sheet sets are often promotional in nature, meaning they can represent a great value... emphasis on the word "can". They can also be a loss-leader, bait and switch way to get you to make an impulsive purchase, so caveat emptor! Keep what you know in mind, and make an informed decision!
If cost were no object, I would always buy 800 thread count Egyptian Cotton "Hotel Collection" sheets from Macy's. They are luxurious, long-wearing, and look great right out of the dryer. At retail, they cost about $800 a set for a king size bed with 4 pillows. At 25% off they are still about $600 a set, and if you can catch them on sale, with a coupon, you can get them for about $540. They are the "gold standard" for sheets, IMHO.
The other great advantages to buying sheets individually vs. as a set are two-fold. All sheets are packaged with a number of fillers and additives to make them feel great at the store. If you are considering an expensive line, it might be a good idea to buy a set of pillowcases, take them home and launder them, and then sleep on them for a night or two to see if you want a whole bed made of that.... and it's always great to have a couple of spare pillowcases around, anyway. The other good reason to buy "open stock" is that it tends to be available in the store for a much longer time than promotional sets, so if bleach damage and pillowcase loss is a common occurrence in your household, you can replace only the pieces you need to complete the set.
If $800 for a set of sheets is a bit rich for your blood, sheet sets can provide a real value, if they meet your needs. Sets are promotional, which means a store will "stack them deep and sell them cheap" for a specific sale event, and when they are sold out, they are gone. There is no replacing individual pieces after an unexpected bleach accident, but they can be a great deal if they are made of a long staple cotton, fit your bed (especially if you have a deep mattress) and come in a color that works with your room.
One of the best values Miss Ginger has found is a 600 TC Egyptian Cotton sateen extended set (it has 4 pillowcases!) for $70 bucks or so. While the brand name and the stitching detail may vary by store, she has found this same general offer at Sam's Club, Costco, and Tuesday Morning. She's even found them at Macy's, and though the ticket price may be a bit higher, with a sale and a coupon they can actually get at low as fifty bucks and some change.
Miss Ginger may not be able to change the quality of your life, but she may be able to upgrade the quality of your sheets.... and if you are handsome and rich, she might be able to enhance the quality of what's between them! You know where to find her... in the comments section, below!!!