Marilyn Kirschner, 74: Aesthete and Fashion Maven

An aesthete and editor who has spent decades working with the best of the best in fashion, Marilyn Kirschner has a distinctive personal style that has evolved with age. She discusses the power of fashion to enhance our lives, offers superb tips for thrifting, and shares the keys to cultivating your own personal style.

Marilyn, at 74, is entirely unapologetic for her age, having never had any cosmetic adjustments, not even Botox. But she is not some wallflower looking for invisibility. An aesthete is defined as a person who has a sensitivity towards beauty. If there was a personification of an aesthete it would be her. She is also an all-pro thrifter and budget fashion aficionado, who reveals to us some of her insider tips. It helps that she spent 21 years as the Senior Market Editor at Harper’s Bazaar, where she got to know and work with the best of the best. Marilyn played a key role in curating content, sourcing the season’s best fashions, and helping to bring them to life in the magazine.  She is now Editor-in-Chief at lookonline.com, the longest-running online fashion publication in the world.

This aesthete is a firm believer in being visible and being seen, for it has been said by some is that it is easier to be heard when one is seen. Fashion can be intimidating; it can also be an energizing force that flows through the culture, with the key being to find what works for you and to discard the rest. What is good is just that: good; and it doesn’t matter who made it, when it was made, or the price. These are markers that she suggests we need to let go of and get used to trusting our instincts for what works for us.

Photo by Joshua Kamei.

What is your age?

What are you wearing today?
My “uniform”: black turtleneck, white jeans, black and white loafers.

What is it that people get wrong about the intersection of age and fashion?
There are no rules and there is no ‘expiration’ date. Getting older does not mean throwing the towel in and giving up. 

I think many people overthink fashion and they are intimidated by fashion but fashion can be an incredible tool, especially as one gets older! When you get it right, it’s empowering. Moreover, fashion can be used to camouflage what you prefer to hide and highlight the positive.

When you find clothes that really fit, flatter, and enhance, you feel better and are more confident and that certainly goes a long way in enjoying life.

I love to say that fashion is better than plastic surgery. It’s a personal choice but doing too much can be disastrous. I have not done anything, not even Botox or hair dye. Instead of concentrating on a few wrinkles or gray hair, I’m more focused on my total head-to-toe appearance.

“I think many people overthink fashion…but fashion can be an incredible tool, especially as one gets older!”

Invisibility is something we hear a lot about as one of the grim realities of aging. What do you think about that?
I think that has changed markedly. Some of the most interesting, most stylish people are older men and women. Iris Apfel is 102. I would hardly call her invisible! Many high profile fashion brands are featuring men and women with gray or white hair in their ad campaigns.  

I have really come into my own in the past few decades. I am so much more comfortable in my skin. I have gotten to know what works and what doesn’t. With age comes experience and knowledge. I’m at a great point in my life.

Photo by Joshua Kamei.

What is the function of fashion, and how does it differ from style?
Fashion is impersonal, it can be bought, it is temporary. Style is intuitive and timeless. It comes from within. It’s all about attitude!

What do you mean by costume?
Our clothes define who we are and how we want to be perceived by the world. Like it or not, we are all basically affecting a “costume” when we decide how to dress for our various roles on any given day.   

What is your advice to men and women on how to approach style?
Learn to craft your own look. “Be yourself; everyone else is taken,” said Oscar Wilde.

Find a look that flatters and reflects who you are. It has nothing to do with trying to look younger, but looking like the best, cooler version of yourself.

“Nothing is ever ‘in’ or ‘out.’ It’s all a matter of how your clothes are worn”

Affect a “uniform” predicated on the highest quality, best-fitting basics you can afford; it makes getting dressed so much easier. Think icons like Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. Learn to use accessories artfully and effectively.

It helps if you know as much about fashion history as possible and stay current on what’s going on by looking at images from the runways. Then, reject everything that does not apply to you. Know yourself, know your body, factor in what is appropriate and, most importantly, understand proportion, cut and fit. Take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Trust your instincts. Don’t follow trends; they are so overrated. Nothing is ever “in” or “out.” It’s all a matter of how your clothes are worn.

You have deep skills at thrifting which, unless one is an heiress, seems infinitely handy. Where do you go to find your treasures?
Everywhere! I never know where I’m going to find something really great. There are the obvious places like Zara, Mango, J. Crew, Banana Republic (which has gotten much better in the past year or so) Madewell, eBay, Etsy, Poshmark, Vestiaire, The Outnet, The RealReal, Tradesy, online auctions, vintage websites and, of course, vintage shows like the Manhattan Vintage Show in Manhattan. 

I used to frequent the 26th Flea Market in Manhattan where I have found incredible things, including sensational furs at hard-to-believe prices. The Chelsea Flea, as it is now called, and flea markets in general, are always worth checking out. You never know when you will find something extraordinary. 

Photo by Joshua Kamei.

Pro Tips for Thrifting

3 pro tips for successful thrifting?
I’ll give you more than 3! It’s helpful to have an idea of what you are looking for. If you are seeking a specific designer or a specific item, do a Google search, find similar items for sale and see what the prices are so you have a point of reference. The more you research the more you know.

Check out high-end vintage websites like 1stDibs, Resurrection, Decades Inc., Marlene Wetherell, etc. to train your eye and to see what is being offered and at what price points. 

Don’t get bogged down by labels. Just because something has a designer label doesn’t mean it’s wonderful and vice versa. In fact, it’s better if there is no designer label because then the price generally won’t be as high.

Keep an open mind, be creative, and learn to think out-of-the-box. Seek out things that “speak” to you. Trust your instincts. 

Other shopping tips for brands, stores that are financially accessible?
I’ve found great things (shoes, accessories, clothing) at the most unexpected places like The Gap, Forever 21, Express, Walmart, Amazon, QVC, HSN, Asos, Anthropologie, Nine West, Sam Edelman, H&M, and Cos, a fashion brand that is part of the H&M Group.

You can’t beat Uniqlo for minimal, utilitarian basics. One of my favorite online stores (they have two shops in Manhattan and one in Paris) is The Frankie Shop which I’ve often written about. They have really wonderful, elevated wardrobe basics. 

I’ve sometimes found clothing and accessories on kids’ websites or stores (there are some pretty big kids out there!). I once bought a very inexpensive small, gold-chained, quilted gold bag that looks very Chanel, at a store for little girls.  

“I’ve sometimes found clothing and accessories on kids’ website or stores”

The day Phoebe Philo left Celine was a very dark day for many. She just dropped her first collection. Thoughts?
It’s extraordinary! Exactly what I thought it would look like and, as of writing this, the collection (which is extremely high priced, I might add) is almost all sold out. It proves there is a hunger for beautifully made, well thought out designs that are classic and distinctive rather than ridiculous and insulting.

You have met and worked with all the greats in fashion. Who stands out for you?
Yes, I’ve been privileged to meet and work with iconic greats such as Yves Saint Laurent, Claude Montana, Gianfranco Ferré, Romeo Gigli, Gianni Versace, Halston (that incredible Olympic Tower atelier!), Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta, Alber Elbaz, Pauline Trigère, and Bill Blass, a class act if ever there was one. 

I forged a special relationship with Perry Ellis who I “discovered” in the early ’70s, having brought in his designs to Harper’s Bazaar when he was a complete unknown. 

As a true artist, Geoffrey Beene will always top my list.

Speaking of artists, I adore, and have a special relationship with the extraordinary couturier Ralph Rucci. I am proud to call Ralph a dear friend who I always learn something from.

How did you find the transition to digital from print? Advantages vs disadvantages?
The instantaneous immediacy of digital is game changing. Working at a magazine back in the day, there was an approximate 3-month lead time between going to print and getting on the newsstands, which often proved frustrating. 

As a magazine editor, I was part of a secret society of sorts. Now the public pretty much gets to see everything and at the same time as fashion insiders. It’s more accessible to the public, which is great for them, obviously, but there are very few surprises. Nothing  remains a secret anymore.

“I am naturally curious about the world around me”

How do you stay connected and inspired?
Like everyone else, I feel like I am on my computer or iPhone constantly. I am naturally curious about the world around me. I strive to soak it all in: fashion, politics, current events, art, music, movies, culture, food, real estate, home décor, etc. 

I try to read as much as possible and Google for more information. I peruse fashion websites and online retailers. I get constant emails so it just comes at me at breakneck speed. I read all the major newspapers, and I have many magazine subscriptions. I still love a hand-held magazine. And of course, I connect with fascinating people at events.

Most importantly, I live in Manhattan. New York is my life’s blood. It’s impossible to be out and about in the city and not be inspired.

If you were not in fashion, what would you be doing?
I would be the Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Digest. I am fascinated with architecture, beautiful homes, fabulous décor, interior design.

Favorite travel destinations?
I love Paris but Italy tops my list. I am especially taken with the incredible beauty of the Amalfi Coast: Positano, Ravello, Capri. Sicily is on my bucket list.

Top 3 favorite artists?
I love so many for different reasons: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Gustav Klimt and Alex Katz who, at the age of 96 is still painting.

What music are you listening to?
I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s so music from that era will always resonate with me but really, I love it all: pop, rhythm & blues, Motown, soul, classical!!! It just depends on whether I want to be energized or chill out. 

How do you start your day?
On the computer (what else?) with a strong cup of coffee or espresso.

Favorite restaurant in NYC?
There are so many great ones depending on what I want. I have a soft spot in my heart for Eleven Madison Park and The Union Square Café is casual and always consistently good. I miss the former Four Seasons Pool Room. It was the place my family went to celebrate special (and not so special) occasions.

Self-care routine?
It’s very simple. I use Cetaphil Cleanser and Moisturizer every day. 

Do you have a fitness routine?
I sure do! I run outside every single morning, rain or shine, and I do moderate weights in my building’s gym a few times a week. Living in Manhattan, I walk all over which is the best exercise possible!

What do the 45 minutes before you go to bed look like?
More often than not, I’m checking my phone, watching the news or, better yet, finding a great movie to watch on TCM.

What are the 3 non-negotiables in your life today?
Follow my instincts, channel my creativity, stay positive!

Connect with Marilyn:

Photos by Joshua Kamei, @ladiesofmadisonavenue

See medical disclaimer below. ↓


  1. thank you for introducing me to marilyn. how did i not know her??? so many things she said resonated with me. fashion, architecture, design, art, NEW YORK. altho i moved to la (and recently santa fe) over 45 years ago, i am a new yorker at heart.
    thanks again!

  2. Every detail of Marilyn’s was so right on! Her commentary and positivity is truly inspiring. I’m saving this article for future (and timeless!) reference. Thank you, Marilyn and AGEIST!

  3. Before I met Marilyn over 20+ years ago, I was an admirer of her writing and I sent her a message saying so. We agreed to meet for a drink at the Ritz and we became fast friends. We are now sister like close and I continue to admire her extraordinary writing talent and amazing style. I applaud my dear friend.


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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.


David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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