Style sheets have existed in one form or another since the beginnings of Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) in the 1980s. Cascading Style Sheets were developed as a means for creating a consistent approach to providing style information for web documents.
As HTML grew, it came to encompass a wider variety of stylistic capabilities to meet the demands of web developers. This evolution gave the designer more control over site appearance, at the cost of more complex HTML. Variations in web browser implementations, such as ViolaWWW and WorldWideWeb, made consistent site appearance difficult, and users had less control over how web content was displayed. Robert Cailliau wanted to separate the structure from the presentation. The ideal way would be to give the user different options and transferring three different kinds of style sheets: one for printing, one for the presentation on the screen and one for the editor feature.
To improve web presentation capabilities, nine different style sheet languages were proposed to the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) www-style mailing list. Of the nine proposals, two were chosen as the foundation for what became CSS: Cascading HTML Style Sheets (CHSS) and Stream-based Style Sheet Proposal (SSP). CHSS, a language that has some resemblance to today's CSS, was proposed by Håkon Wium Lie in October 1994. Bert Bos was working on a browser called Argo, which used its own style sheet language called SSP. Lie and Yves Lafon joined Dave Raggett to expand the Arena browser for supporting CSS as a testbed application for the W3C. Lie and Bos worked together to develop the CSS standard (the 'H' was removed from the name because these style sheets could also be applied to other markup languages besides HTML).
Unlike existing style languages like DSSSL and FOSI, CSS allowed a document's style to be influenced by multiple style sheets. One style sheet could inheritor "cascade" from another, permitting a mixture of stylistic preferences controlled equally by the site designer and user.
Development of HTML, CSS, and the DOM had all been taking place in one group, the HTML Editorial Review Board (ERB). Early in 1997, the ERB was split into three working groups: HTML Working group, chaired by Dan Connolly of W3C; DOM Working group, chaired by Lauren Wood of SoftQuad; and CSS Working group, chaired by Chris Lilley of W3C.
The CSS Working Group began tackling issues that had not been addressed with CSS level 1, resulting in the creation of CSS level 2 on November 4, 1997. It was published as a W3C Recommendation on May 12, 1998. CSS level 3, which was started in 1998, is still under development as of 2014.
In 2005 the CSS Working Groups decided to enforce the requirements for standards more strictly. This meant that already published standards like CSS 2.1, CSS 3 Selectors and CSS 3 Text were pulled back from Candidate Recommendation to Working Draft level.