Aline Bernstein, née Frankau, was born in New York City, the daughter of an actor and his wife. She attended the New York School of Applied Design and went to concerts and theater parties with her father. After graduation, she studied with portraitist Robert Henri. In 1902, she married Theodore Bernstein, a stockbroker, and the couple had two children. She volunteered for the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of New York, where she first designed sets and costumes for plays. She worked on Broadway and in Hollywood, and helped create and served as president of the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. She also wrote fiction, earning praise for her novel The Journey Down (1937), a fictional account of her affair with Thomas Wolfe.