The question is - what will a browser do, given a page with several stylesheets, each of them probably overwriting definitions from the previous ones? Will the browser render the page using the first received css file, while downloading the other ones and after that partially re-rendering where required? The answer is: no, the browser will wait until all CSS files are downloaded, (then probably merge all definitions, just a wild guess) and will render once.
I did this test - one page with two stylesheets that contain pretty much the same selectors for different table styles (thanks to this gallery). Each of the CSS files is actually a PHP script and has a call to sleep(), one sleeps for 5 seconds, the other one for 10.
The browser sits there and waits for the both styles, rendering nothing (except for the page title, but that's not really rendering, is it?). So nothing happens for 10 seconds, then the second style is used for the final rendering. This happens in both FF and IE.
I also tried sleeping in the actual page, and flushing the output after each row. In my home environment FF renders each row as it's received, but in my hosted environment, it waits for the whole table. IE alsways waits for the complete table.
If I put the page to too much sleep so that the php script dies before the second stylesheet is dowloaded, the browser uses whatever is at hand (css1) to render the page.
- the actual test - two CSS files, first one sleeping 5 seconds, the other one 10
- table with no styles, sleeping 1 second after each row
- table with css1 only, css sleeps 5 seconds
- zipped test for your testing pleasure